Pope Francis’ personal lifestyle has always reflected simplicity. Back in Argentina he lived in simple quarters and would often take pride in telling people that he cooked for himself.
There’s an old maxim in Ignatian Spirituality that touts the evil tendencies that human beings often fall into. It’s simply entitled “From Riches, to Honors, to Pride.” Pride, as we know is one of the seven deadly sins. The Sufi tradition teaches that one of the deadly sins is your “main sin” and all the other sins in your life are symptoms of that main sin. Ignatius certainly felt that way about pride and I think we can see a similar tendency in Pope Francis.
But pride starts out with riches, which may for some mean actual money, but can also be linked to attachment. Even simple adornments can be a sign of attachment. For example, Pope Francis was given a gold pectoral cross to wear, which he refused, preferring the simpler cross that he’s worn as a bishop for many years. The pope also chose to wear a simple alb instead of the longer red cape that popes in the past have worn.
All of this is certainly intentional on Pope Francis’ part. In fact, I’d be surprised if many popes in the past have had much consideration for their wardrobe. The thought of being pope is overwhelming, and I can imagine most men saying, “Just tell me what to wear. This is all new to me.” But Pope Francis has clearly placed the poor at the heart of his papacy, which might be all too easy to forget in the glamour and prestige of the Vatican. Pope Francis has put detachment from riches at the heart of his priesthood and developed that habit for many years. It would be hard for him NOT to live this way.
When we attain certain status, people treat us differently. Having an iPhone, an iPad, or the latest tech gadget is often a status symbol. Dressing a certain way or even having access to others who are powerful can be a sign to others of our own clout.
The note on power is that most would think that you get power from powerful things …but the true person who has great strength is the one who can stand with nothing to support them but God. They don’t need anything else to mask their vulnerability.
And for so many of us, attaining and maintaining “status” can be an addiction. We think that we gain power from powerful things. But true power lies not in status but rather in stripping away all of the things that bring riches and honor to us. True power is being able to rely on God alone. A person who has great strength is the one who can stand with nothing to support them but God. They don’t need anything else to mask their vulnerability. St. Ignatius notes in his spiritual exercises:
“… that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end. To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.”
What might be the obstacles in your life? What might be things that you have grown to attached to? What is the difference between wanting something and truly needing something? When it comes to the pope — even the trappings of a nice place to live may come with a level of temptation.
As he entered the papal apartment for the first time, Pope Francis tipped his hand early. “300 people could live here!” he reportedly said.
Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, a good friend of Pope Francis, embraced him in the conclave after then Cardinal Bergoglio attained the number of votes needed to garner election. Hummes to Bergoglio: “Don’t forget the poor.”
Perhaps in the pope’s view our church hierarchy is a bit too tied to the things of this world. At a time in his life when it would be all too easy to do so, Pope Francis is taking great measures to remind himself of the poor. As he takes up residence in simpler quarters — around people who work in the Vatican and guests who visit — Pope Francis has decided to do just that.