One of the things folks admire about Pope Francis is his decision to live simply. Rather than live in private apartments at the Vatican, he has chosen to live in guest quarters, partly because these are closer to other people and it allows him to live in a community, which, as a Jesuit, he values.
But as an archbishop and cardinal, he set the same standard of simplicity, rejecting fancy homes and a lifestyle above that of the people he served. In continuing with this tradition, he’s setting a beautiful example, not just for other bishops and clergy, but for all of us.
As someone who has been involved with stewardship programs for years, I still struggle with the concept of simple living. When I was a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps years ago, a simple lifestyle was one of the corps’ key values, challenging us to live in a way that freed resources for others and helped free us from attachments. As Gandhi said, “live simply so that others may simply live.”
But let’s face it: It’s tough not to fall prey to the consumerism of our culture. Advertisements always are suggesting that we need more, that our self-esteem is tied up in how much we have or whether we have the latest in technology, fashion, cars or home decor.
It was easier to live simply as a poor volunteer, but as marriage, a family, and acquisitions such as a house and cars came along, it was tougher to choose the narrower path.
For many years, I was coordinator of stewardship at a parish, and at one stewardship conference I attended, I heard a woman talk about her family’s decision to tithe. Tithing, the giving of 10 percent of our income to church and charity, is a biblical concept. The idea of giving back to God the first fruits of our labor acknowledges the truth that everything we have comes from God.
This woman spoke of the decision she and her husband made to tithe. But then, her husband, the family’s breadwinner, lost his job. She worked for the church and her income was far less. They faced a new decision: Should they continue to tithe from what income they had left? They continued to give the first fruits, that 10 percent of a diminished income, to the Lord. And you know what? It worked. They found that, as usual, the Lord provided.
Sirach 29: 10-13 has a great quote pertaining to giving: “Lose your money for relative or friend; do not hide it under a stone to rot… Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will save you from every evil.”
I love the promise that my generosity will protect me from evil, and I know that whenever I stretch myself to give of my resources of time or wealth, the rewards to me are always greater than what I’ve given. Yet, often I fail to live up to the example our pope is giving us.
I treasure Isaiah 58:7’s great wisdom about the kind of sacrifice God wants. Clearly, it’s not sack cloth and ashes. No, Isaiah pegs sacrifice to the good of others, to breaking unjust fetters and letting the oppressed go free.
“Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?”
This is the challenge Pope Francis has given us.