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The Role of Ordinary Work and Collecting Money in the Priesthood

by Raymond Brown S.S. in
Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections
Paulist Press, New York

The Service of ordinary work

Paul earned his own living while he was evangelizing Corinth lest he be a burden to his converts and they think that he was seeking their money instead of themselves. This example of work is scarcely held up as an absolute norm, even by Paul himself, and we find the Jerusalem apostles having to make a choice between waiting on tables and preaching the word of God. Yet Paul's example reminds us that ordinary work is within the possible scope of the sacred ministry, not as a primary occupation, perhaps, but as an auxiliary.

Today there is a movement to end the distinctions between the priest and the laity, curiously there is a paradoxical reaction among priests against doing work "that anyone could be hired to do." That reaction is justified if most of a priest's time were thus taken away from the real needs of his people, but sometimes it reflects a dislike for drudgery. Paul knew that ordinary work brought him close to those whom he hoped to win over for Christ, and one may well suspect that even today people will not understand priests whose idea of their calling is so exclusively evangelistic that they find no place in it for ordinary work (which often has its share of drudgery.)

The service of collecting money

It is startling to see how much attention is devoted in the Pauline letters to raising money. While Paul was quite sensitive about imposing on others for his own needs, he did not hesitate to beg in order to alleviate the poverty of the Jerusalem church. By pressing his Gentile Christians to give money for Jerusalem, he hoped to keep them conscious of their larger relationships and to bind them to the churches of God in Palestine. He hoped to teach the Gentile converts the Christian need of sharing. In short, as in most subsequent church drives for money, he had a good cause and felt that a contribution was an aspect of charity. Precisely for this reason he did not regard it beneath his dignity as an apostle or extraneous to his apostolic ministry to come back again and again to this mundane question when writing to his congregations. Those who complain that church pulpits are too often the organs of monetary appeals are certainly right, but one has good Pauline backing for questioning a semi-Gnostic attitude whereby a man thinks it an insult to his priesthood that he has to ask for money. This is an approach to ministry that is too other-worldly for the New Testament.