Pope Francis in his simple ways reminds me a lot of my grandparents generation, those born during the thirties. I think we have all heard about a friend buying him new shoes as he headed out for the conclave. And his refusal to take on traditional parts of the papal dress, such as the mozzetta, and the fact that he would rather walk places than take a car a couple of blocks. These things remind me of how my grandfather will eat all of an apple, I mean all of it, until there is nothing but the stem remaining, and how he has simple, plain but healthy meals everyday of his life. And his shoes; I am not sure if I have ever seen him wear a new looking shoe in my life. He must buy new ones at some point. In this simplicity, there is a desire to not be wasteful with one’s possessions and to use each possession until it is no longer usable.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if Pope Francis let the papal fleet become a group of well maintained old cars? The simple lifestyle is not just using things until they are no longer useful, but it is also about being a good steward of what one does have. This simplicity is inspiring. Another aspect of his self-imposed simplicity is the fact that Jesuits take a vow of poverty; being pope does not make him no longer a Jesuit or exempt from his vows. Though I do not really know the tradition of how Jesuits lave lived their vow of poverty. And now the pope has decided to not live in the papal apartments. His simplicity in his personal life is inspiring (though I wish he would take his simple personal life and contrast it to worshiping God in beautiful liturgies full of splendor). I think we have a lot to learn from our new pope.
In the first-world, we do live in a wealth that was unimaginable to people even 100 years ago. We have machines for washing just about everything we own, indoor plumbing, electricity, the internet, and our material needs are always met. And when you look at the pictures of the pope’s suite in the Vatican “hotel,” his furniture is still super nice. St. Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life (I can’t stop referencing him, because he is so good!) talks about poverty of spirit in he midst of wealth. He says:
“ ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.’ (Matthew 5:3)…[Y]our heart be open only to heaven and impenetrable to riches and earthly things; if you possess them preserve your heart from loving them; let it rise above them, and be poor in the midst of wealth, and the master of its riches. Beware of losing the spirit of holiness in the good things of the world, but let your hearts always be the superior, not in them but above them.”
This is exactly is what Pope Francis is aspiring to. He realizes the dangers of being attached to the worldly goods that are so accessible to him and is opening his heart to the riches of Heaven. He has shown us that he is so open to the riches of Heaven in God’s mercy, but also in God in other people. I think he is trying to teach us that what matters more than anything is loving God and loving others. Our worldly possessions should not get in the way of loving others and a way of being detached from them is by having things be simple.
He said in his homily on Palm Sunday, “Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy that comes from having many possessions, but it comes from having encountered a Person, Jesus, who is among us.” I think Pope Francis is trying to show the Church and the whole world that we can have joy by living simply and loving others. I hope that he continues to embody and hold strong to his simplicity as his papacy continues; and is he persists he will have more of an impact on the world than he has in these first few weeks.