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Reading The Diary of a Country Priest: Spiritual riches and poverty

By Thomas V. Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 28, 2015 | In Reviews

[This is part of a series of articles collecting insightful passages on various themes from Georges Bernanos's classic novel The Diary of a Country Priest.]

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The two quotes below are from the Curé de Torcy, a fellow priest who serves as a mentor to the protagonist, on the topic of spiritual riches and poverty.

"Our division into rich and poor must be based on some great law of the universe. In the eyes of the church the rich man is here to shield the poor, like his elder brother. Well, of course, he often does it without even wanting to, by the sheer action of economic force, as they say. A millionaire goes smash and thousands are chucked out into the streets. So you can just imagine what happens in the invisible world when one of those rich men I’ve just been talking about, a steward of divine grace, turns tail! The solvency of the mediocre is nothing. Whereas the solvency of a saint! What a scandal if he should happen to fail! You’ve got to be crazy to refuse to see that the sole justification of inequality in the supernatural order is its risk. Our risk! Both yours and mine."

[Discussing another character, Dr. Delbende:] "Perhaps all the harm really came from his loathing of mediocre people: 'You hate mediocrities,' I kept telling him. He rarely denied it, because I say again, he was a just man. Mediocrities are a trap set by the devil. Mean-spirited people are far too complex for us; they're God‘s business, not ours; but in the meantime we should shelter mediocrity, take it under our wing. Poor devils, they need some keeping warm! 'If you really sought Our Lord you'd end by finding Him,' I used to say. He always answered: 'I'm looking for God among the poor, where I’ve the best chance of ever finding Him.' But the trouble was that his ‘poor’ were chaps of his own sort. They weren't truly the poor at all, they were rebels, masters! So I said to him one day: 'And suppose Jesus were really waiting for you in the guise of one of these worthy people you despise so?' Because apart from sin, He takes on Himself and sanctifies all our wretchedness. A coward may be only some poor creature crushed down by overwhelming social forces like a rat caught under a beam; a miser may be miserably anxious, deeply convinced of his impotence and racked with fear of not 'making good.' Some people who seem brutally heartless may suffer from a kind of 'poverty-phobia'—one often meets it—a terror as difficult to explain as the nervous fear of mice or spiders. 'Do you ever look for Christ among people of that kind?' l asked him. 'And if you don't, then what are you grousing about? You've missed Christ, yourself.'"


Previous in series: Scandal
Next in series: Hell

Thomas V. Mirus is a pianist living in New York City. He is the director of audio media for CatholicCulture.org and hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: seewig - Oct. 12, 2016 7:17 PM ET USA

    We all can sense the problematics in the unusual approach of Pope Francis to his papacy. But let’s ask, perhaps, what God wants us to understand and do with such developments. We had a period of two popes with “orthodox” views and actions, which we thought were very encouraging and inspirational. But not all followed much of their guidance, and now we ‘received’ a Pope with a different, more secular(?) leaning. Does God thus give us this choice to prove a point for us? Wish for more space.

  • Posted by: dmva9806 - Oct. 01, 2016 11:48 AM ET USA

    And with that (from loumiamo) we see the problem - even the better informed cannot distinguish between different levels of magisterial of teaching. The tendency to receive every document issued in the name of the pope as inspired and infallible is ubiquitous. Better catechesis is desperately needed.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Sep. 29, 2016 8:56 PM ET USA

    actually Amoris laetitia is not an encyc,ical but am apostolic exhortation. https://www.ewtn.com/HolySee/pontiff/categories.asp

  • Posted by: loumiamo - Sep. 29, 2016 10:39 AM ET USA

    I'm just a layman, and with my layman's understanding, I cannot understand why a supreme pontiff would bother writing a document that does not meet the 3 requirements needed to have that document accepted as authoritative Catholic teaching. A private letter, an interview, a personal conversation, I can understand, but a papal encyclical that so obviously misses the mark--what in the work is the point of such an effort?