Skip to content

Necessities vs. Superfluities

July 23, 2009

(I posted this a while back in my two other blogs, but it was so popular, I’ve decided to post again… I’m going through the list now that we’re moving across the country in the next few weeks and it seems we have a LONG way to go!)

This examen is straight from Fr. Dubay’s book Happy Are You Poor. He says that we all have different needs so we “cannot know whether a need is real or illusory” for certain people, but these set of questions are at least a good start. Some may think this is a bit too rigorous… but examens should be rigorous–or perhaps blunt and sincere.

  • By what standards do I determine what is necessary?
  • Do I collect unneeded things? Do I hoard possessions?
  • May I, on Gospel principles, buy clothes at the dictates of fashion designers in Paris and New York? Am I slave to fashion? Do I live in other peoples’ minds? Why really do I have all the clothes I have: shirts, blouses, suits, dresses, shoes, gloves?
  • Am I an inveterate nibbler? Do I eat because I am bored? Do the weight charts convict me of superfluity in eating and drinking? Do I take second helpings simply for the pleasure they afford?
  • Do I keep unneeded books and papers and periodicals and notes?
  • Do I retain two or three identical items (clocks, watches, scarves) of which I really need only one?
  • Do I spend money on trinkets and unnecessary conveniences?
  • In the winter, do we keep our thermostat, at a setting higher than health experts advise: 68 degrees?
  • When I think of my needs, do I also think of the far more drastic needs of the teeming millions in the third world?
  • Do I need the traveling I do more than the poor need food and clothing and medical care?
  • Am I right in contributing to the billions of dollars spent each year on cosmetics? How much of this can be called necessary?
  • Is smoking necessary for me?
  • Is drinking necessary for me?
  • Do I need to examine exactly what I mean by saying to myself, “I need this”?
  • Can I honestly say that all I use or possess is used or possessed for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)? Would he be given more glory by some other use?
  • Do I in the pauline sense “mind the things above, not those on earth” (Col 3:1-2)?
  1. July 25, 2009 8:54 pm


    Thanks for posting this again. I now vaguely remember reading your previous post. Unfortunately, I had not remembered while we were packing. Oh well, I suspect we may be getting rid of or donating more superfluous “stuff” when we begin moving into the new place.

    Last night as I read this I was on family vacation, sitting in a condo, drinking a frozen beverage, snacking absent-mindedly, enjoying the beach, etc. I consider myself (perhaps wrongly) to be someone who, to a certain extent, understand what a Christian life might look life, although my life often fails to reflect that look. I am also realizing that Catholics will only become more Catholic than American, etc. through experiencing the authentic and integral Christian witness of other Catholics.

    My question is how to rightly consider family vacations which appear to be intrinsically associated with superfluity, but are also important (especially since we are moving) times of communion and opportunities for witness. Would my witness be more authentic if we refused to join our families in condos and on cruises, opting instead to spend that time or money on the poor? I’m not sure.

    what do you think?

  2. July 25, 2009 11:55 pm


    I actually struggle with the same thing. I mean, we just came back from a two-week vacation around Germany and Austria. We stayed a three-star and four-star hotels for safety reasons (instead of hostels) and they just happened to be cheap (around $100/night for the most part). The question is: should we not vacation at all, because the poor cannot take vacations? I think that is when Fr. Dubay says that these questions should be answered on a case-by-case basis and each family or individual knows best what constitutes a need or a superfluity. In my opinion, with regard to vacation, it comes down to the purpose behind the vacation and what we are doing. For us, this vacation was much like a pilgrimage: we went to daily Mass whenever possible, visited a lot of churches and took the trip just as an opportunity to learn about another culture and other people (who are really our brothers and sisters, because we are all sons and daughters of the same Father). In your case, you are relaxing with family before moving far away and that is a wonderful thing. Family vacations are the best memories I have! And as long as your condo does not have 14k gold faucets, I think you’re ok!

    I think family vacations become a problem if you’re staying at very luxurious hotels exactly because they ARE luxurious and provide you with a sense of comfort that you’re seeking and is above and beyond what is necessary. That is not your case, of course! If vacations are all about yourself and you are spending money frivolously rather than spending time with family then it is a problem, because that time becomes about you alone and not about others: fraternity, solidarity, love… Traveling is a wonderful thing and Augustine thought so too. I think the bottom line is our attitude when we travel.

    We also have to keep in mind that vacations are necessary. Even our Lord took time off to go to the desert. I remember reading Dorothy Day and she said that whenever she took Ignatian-type retreats (which lasted days), she ate very well (plenty of fruits and food) in comparison to the rest of the time when she was serving the poor. Ignatian retreats are very intense and she thought that if she were to be hungry, she would not focus on the spiritual exercises that took a lot of her but on the fact that she was hungry! I have done silent retreats in the past and they can be very consuming that if you were to worry on top of that about being hungry, then the retreat would not serve its purpose. So, in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t beat yourself for having a much-needed time off with family and enjoying a nice cold beer (if you are only having just one instead of six! 🙂 )!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: