Q. My husband and I live relatively modestly by American standards, are conscious of the amount of resources we use and tithe 10 percent. However, I realize that even doing so we are still living in extreme luxury compared to most people in the world.
In the Gospel, Jesus talks of embracing poverty and leaving all possessions behind to follow him. I feel guilty about having so much, but I also feel that if my husband and I gave up further luxuries (e.g., a computer or a car), it would limit our ability to maintain our jobs, keep contact with friends and family, engage in volunteer activities, go to church, etc.
So, is it possible to follow Jesus in America while living a somewhat “normal” American lifestyle? (Indianapolis)
A. The biblical passage to which you refer is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke).
A rich young man approaches Jesus and asks what he needs to do to be saved. Jesus recites to him the commandments and when the man says that he has indeed followed them, Jesus suggests that he take one further step: to sell all that he has and give the proceeds to the poor, and then come and follow Christ.
Endless commentary has been written about these words and whether they were an invitation or a command. I believe that they were an invitation, and I would argue in particular from Matthew’s version (19:21), which has Jesus saying, “If you wish to be perfect …”
Also, when Zacchaeus the tax collector in Jericho was so taken by Christ that he pledged to give away “half” of his possessions and to repay fourfold anyone he had defrauded, Jesus was obviously pleased and said that salvation had come that day to Zacchaeus’ house.
So I do not believe that every Christian is bound to live in abject poverty, although Christ encourages such a choice and many of his disciples over the centuries have made that choice.
But all Christians are bound to reflect continually on their lifestyle and to examine whether they are doing as much as they might for those who have been blessed with less.
This does not mean that you have to give up your job or your computer or that you can abandon your responsibility to raise and educate your children. It has more to do with where your ultimate loyalty lies — and that should not be in material possessions. (Luke says in 12:34, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”)
From the description of your current lifestyle, I believe that you and your husband are surely faithful disciples of Jesus.
Q. I have tried in vain to find out whether Pope Francis has ever had the chance to visit in person with his only surviving sibling since he was elected pope. (I have read that she — Maria Elena Bergoglio, his youngest sister — has not been well.) Will Pope Francis ever get a chance to see her? (Honolulu)
A. I can find nothing to indicate that Maria Elena has visited Rome since her brother’s election in March 2013. His only surviving sibling, 12 years younger than the pope, she has been hospitalized briefly a couple of times during the past two years with various ailments, which I do not believe were life-threatening.
When her brother was elected pope, he telephoned her immediately during his first free moments. She told an interviewer that she had not expected his election and was actually rooting for someone else because she wanted her brother back home.
In late 2014, Maria Elena’s son said in a Latin American blog that his uncle “Jorge” was continuing to telephone his family once or twice a week. He said that they had not yet traveled to Rome and preferred to wait instead until the pope was able to visit Argentina.
In September 2015, Monsignor Guillermo Karcher, an Argentinian priest who is on the Vatican staff, told the Buenos Aires Herald that the pope is expected to travel to Argentina in 2017. (Maria Elena had told the press that she wants “two minutes to hug him.”)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.