CNN recently reported on the number of American archbishops who live in multimillion-dollar homes, seemingly in defiance of Pope Francis' call for a "church which is poor and for the poor."
Some of these situations are complicated: the report acknowledges that the $30 million St. Patrick's Cathedral on Madison Avenue in New York City is on the National Register of Historic Places and cannot easily be sold or remodeled. Other cases, however -- such as a $500,000 extension to the episcopal mansion in Newark, N.J. -- are truly disheartening.
Sadly, clerical excess is but the tip of the iceberg of first-world wealth. It was easy to lampoon Pope Benedict XVI for recycling old ermine mozzettas and wearing red shoes (which, contrary to popular belief, were not Prada), but it is harder for us to recognize our own spending on every latest technical innovation and fashion accessory, which is also scandalous by the standards of the world's poor.
The pressure to spend as much as we can and reassure ourselves that we've earned it may not always be malevolent, but it is insidious: Our lifestyle tends to expand to fit our budget just as gas expands to fill a container, not because a conscious choice is made to be greedy, but because no conscious choice is made to change the paradigm of what ought to be done with acquired wealth.
The summer months put one particular form of extravagance on display, prompting Catholic columnist Sara Knutson to suggest:
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It's time for laypeople to do our part and examine our celebration of the one sacrament that is exclusively lay: marriage. ... If we want, as Pope Francis says, to be a church of the poor and for the poor, we need to think reflectively about our own choices in wedding celebrations. We need to consider what it means to spend thousands of dollars on out-of-season flowers and one-time table centerpieces. We need to ask why we accept the idea that wedding parties should wear identical, expensive, and usually single-use formalwear. We need to examine why we rent limousines and buses to transport that wedding party from ceremony to reception.
Knutson subsequently compiled some Catholic newlyweds' suggestions for socially conscious weddings, such as holding receptions at nonprofit venues and using simple, homemade decorations.
Commenters on Knutson's post, while agreeing with the tenor of her suggestions, pointed out difficulties in making good on them. "Our marriage is not merely a private affair," Ellen Roemer writes.
"Constantly prioritizing my preferences over my mother's minimizes her role in the wedding and in my life. Do I want a band at the reception? Eh, not a priority. But my parents have been taking ballroom dance classes (so cute!) and they know a band they think is great."
Another respondent, Brian Niemiec, offers a theological reflection on the vast amount of water Jesus turned to wine at Cana. "There is an overabundance in that story and the same can be seen in marriage ceremonies throughout history across cultures, religions, and economic resources."
Does this justify "excessiveness to the point we see today in some weddings?" Niemiec asks. No, he says -- but "celebration befitting the overabundant love of God present in a special way on that day? Absoluting!"
What do you think? Is the amount of money spent on weddings scandalous, celebratory or simply a necessity?