Summary: Like St. Benedict, we must live simply if we are to successfully share the gospel of Jesus.
The great saints, like St. Benedict whom we celebrate today, bear witness that the words of today’s Gospel are not just for the first century. They are timeless instructions on our work of evangelism. Those who spread the good news are doing so as Jesus did. The effectiveness of the Church in several centuries had a lot to do with the evangelizers hearing and living the first Beatitude: blessed are the poor in spirit. We are to bring good news to the poor. So it makes no sense to look rich. It puts people off. It makes no sense to expect money from those we are evangelizing. The gospel has come to us free of charge; we can’t charge others for the privilege of hearing that gospel.
This speaks to the reason for the success of religious orders like the Franciscans. Their dress is simple and they always look the same; in fact, you can’t determine whether they have two tunics or one or four. In the Benedictine communities, everyone lived the same life. Benedict’s motto was ora et labora–pray and work. So they chanted the entire divine office every day, and they labored in the fields and shops and copy houses. Benedict’s monasteries are the reason that Western civilization survived the barbarian invasions. The writings of the early fathers of the Church, as well as many pagan writings, survive because of their work. This is the kind of result that we can expect if we in our own way follow their example.
Let me clue you in on something you probably don’t know about deacons. I think most Catholics know that we do not receive any kind of compensation from the Church. That’s in canon 281. But it has been customary when a deacon performs a sacrament or buries a parishioner to give him a stipend. That has led to some abuses. Some deacons–nobody I know–have been deriving a nice income from their service. That has changed over the past months, and for the better. The Archbishop, for instance, now has funeral homes send stipends directly to the parish, rather than to the deacon. And we are supposed to give all stipends we receive to the parish. That is a living out of what you heard in today’s Gospel. The gifts of God are freely given. We deacons are to support ourselves and our families through our secular employment or retirement. This avoids even the appearance of simony.
But what else does it mean? I think for the laity it means making certain you are supporting us through your prayers. We need it; and we definitely value that ministry you give to us.