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Ask | Priests are encouraged to strive for simplicity, not poverty

Diocesan priests, while not bound by a vow of poverty, are encouraged to be prudent in providing for the necessities of his life

This may surprise you, but when my classmates and I were ordained to the diaconate in 2005 and the priesthood in 2006, we didn’t make any vows — at all!

Shocking? It shouldn’t be.

The confusion revolves around the distinction between religious life (brothers, sisters, monks and nuns) and the diocesan priesthood. Religious vows are made as part of belonging to a particular order such as the Franciscans, Dominicans or Benedictines. Much like marriage vows, a man or woman entering into a consecrated relationship with the Lord, as well as a communal relationship with an order, typically vows three things; poverty, chastity and obedience. Some orders may have four vows; for example, the Missionaries of Charity also take a vow of joy, and Benedictines make a vow of stability.

Poverty, chastity and obedience are known as the evangelical counsels, or the counsels of perfection. They mirror the life of Jesus and set the man or woman apart to give witness to the Gospel in their entire being.

By sacrificing the goods of the world (poverty), they remind us that happiness doesn’t come from material goods.

By sacrificing marriage (chastity), religious begin living now the relationship we all hope to have perfectly with God in heaven, where we’re neither given nor taken in marriage, but worship God with the angels (Matthew 22:30).

By submitting their wills to their superiors (obedience), they die to self in service of the kingdom in union with Jesus who came not to do his own will, but the will of his Father (John 6:38).

So what about me and my classmates? As diocesan clergy, we don’t belong to a religious order, so we make no vows. Rather, we make three promises to our bishop: respect and obedience to the bishop and his successor; to pray daily for the people of God through the Liturgy of the Hours; and we promise celibacy for the sake of the kingdom. Notice what isn’t promised? Poverty.

Canon law states that “since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve remuneration which is consistent with their condition … and by which they can provide for the necessities of their life as well for the equitable payment of those whose services they need (Canon 281).” Put simply, diocesan priests need enough to provide for things such as a car, clothing, food, medicine and reasonable leisure. Religious orders provide all of these things for the members of their community, but the diocesan priest is responsible for these things on his own.

However, the Church wants her priests to be spiritual fathers, not spiritual bachelors, so she also gives this guidance: “Clerics are to foster simplicity of life and are to refrain from all things that have a semblance of vanity.” Should a diocesan priest have a well-functioning and reliable car for ministry? Yes. Should a diocesan priest be driving around in a luxury vehicle? Probably not. The cardinal virtue of prudence plays a pivotal role in guiding the stewardship of a diocesan priest.

So, even though my classmates and I didn’t take any vows at our ordination, as diocesan priests, we promised to live simple, obedient, chaste and prayerful lives for the sake of the kingdom.

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