Pope Francis’ edifying yet disquieting simplicity

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. - The Philippine Star

“Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,

vanity of vanities! All things are

vanity!” (Eccl. 1:2)

An attribute of Pope Francis that endears him to us, Catholics and non-Christians alike, is his simplicity.

After his election in the Sistine Chapel, the new pope, instead of sitting on the papal throne, opted to stand to receive the greetings of his fellow Cardinals.  Afterwards, instead of riding the papal car, he chose to take the bus with the rest of the Cardinals.  The following day, he stopped by the hotel where he stayed during the conclave and, to the astonishment of the receptionist, paid his bill.

 A few days after his election, Pope Francis called the owner of a newspaper stand in Buenos Aires to inform him that he was cutting his subscription.  Daniel Del Regno, the son of the owner picked up the phone.

“Hi, Daniel, it’s Cardinal Jorge.”  Daniel thought a friend was pulling a prank, so Pope Francis had to reiterate, “Seriously, it’s Jorge Bergoglio, I’m calling you from Rome.”

Daniel related to the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, “I was in shock, I broke down in tears and didn’t know what to say ….  He thanked me for delivering the paper all the time and sent best wishes to my family.”  Before hanging up, Daniel ended, the pope asked him for his prayers. (Pray for Me, Robert Moynihan, 25-26)

Instead of residing in the Apostolic Palace, he has opted to reside in Santa Martha, which is adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica and which serves as a guest house for visiting clergy and lay people.

In his dialogue with the youth, one young girl asked him why does not reside in the Apostolic palace?  He jokingly replied, “Because I have a psychiatric condition’!  That’s just my personality.”

But his decision to live in St. Martha’s House is deliberate.  “I’m visible to people and I lead a normal life — a public Mass in the morning, I eat in the refectory with everyone else….  All this is good for me and prevents me from being isolated.”

Why are we drawn to Pope Francis’ simplicity and humility? 

Our attraction to his simplicity reveals to us our interior poverty.  Deep within us reside a gnawing emptiness that not even the whole world can fill, a disquieting loneliness despite being surrounded by people who love us, a disturbing sense of inadequacy notwithstanding our achievements and successes.  This is not a malaise, a sickness or disorder.  This is constitutive of being human, of being finite and mortal, yet imbued with infinite longings.

The problem lies not in the experience of this profound loneliness and emptiness.  The problem lies in our futile attempt to fill-in this emptiness with all that the world has to offer.  We are thus driven to accumulate things and titles, to strive for honor and glory, to be perceived as important and influential.  We become possessive, not only of material things, but also of people.  We ceaselessly accumulate, amass and appropriate. We tragically strive to fulfill and still our infinite longings with that which is finite, our eternal yearnings with that which is mortal and material.

Pope Francis writes, if [our] treasure is a treasure that is not close to the Lord, that is not from the Lord … our heart is tired, it is never filled….” (from his homily in his residence, Vatican Radio, June 21, 2013)

How can Pope Francis remain so simple? My guess is that Pope Francis is a man so rooted in Christ, which we are not, or not yet, but strive to be. And because “Jesus Christ is his all,” he has no need for anything else.

In his 2008 Ash Wednesday homily, he spoke, “What do I seek?  Worldliness? Superficiality? [Or] do I seek an encounter with Jesus that is going to fulfill me, that gives me the only happiness that cannot be lost?” 

In his homily on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, June 17, 2006, he proclaims, “If there is no Encounter with Jesus, life becomes inconsistent, loses its meaning.”  But “[w]ith Christ we can transform ourselves and the world” (Palm Sunday Mass, March 24, 2013).


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