I once challenged my minister and good friend. He was moving from our modest working class Methodist church to a prestigious wealthy church. “Aren’t you going against what Jesus taught about humility, simplicity, and the first being last? Why do the best pastors always leave the poorer struggling churches to go to the wealthy successful churches?”
I was being hypocritical. If I was in my pastor’s shoes, I would have done the same thing. I asked a tough question because I was disappointed my friend was leaving.
It is difficult to live what we believe, to live outside the norm and to live against our selfish interests. When we do, it is a powerful example. It makes a strong statement — as long as we do it with integrity.
Pope Francis made strong statements when he became Pope.
He chose the name Francis to honor Saint Francis of Assisi. The name had never been chosen for a Pope.
Saint Francis was a wealthy leader and crusader in the early 1200s. He gave up his life of wealth, war, and prestige to live simply with the poor. He had a great reverence for nature and the world around him. Pope John Paul II said of St. Francis: “As a friend of the poor who was loved by God’s creatures, Saint Francis invited all of creation – animals, plants, natural forces, even Brother Sun and Sister Moon – to give honor and praise to the Lord.”
Pope Francis said he chose the name Francis because his namesake was “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” He then said, “[h]ow I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor.”
On the night after being elected Pope, Francis took the bus back to his hotel. Pope Francis then became the first Pope since 1914 to not live in the ornate Papal Apartments at the Apostolic Palace. Instead, he took residence in a simple guest house. This is similar to how he had lived prior to becoming Pope. As an archbishop, he declined a limousine and took the bus to work. He cooked his own meals.
While these are modest gestures, they demonstrated sincerity and integrity. These traits are essential to one who preaches.
And the new Pope began to preach. He taught about the church’s critical mission of serving and being with the poor. He released an encyclical about climate change, the environment, and the effect of the changing environment on the poor. He has shown openness and humility on issues of sexuality and women, although he has not yet made significant change in these areas.
He has become the most popular Pope of our lifetime. This is quite a feat given the popularity of Pope John Paul II. With his popularity, more and more people are listening to his teaching.
This Pope lives what he believes. He lives simply and loves the poor.
Of course, there are huge risks in holding one’s self out as an example of living what one believes. When one fails to live up to an ideal, there can be tragic repercussions.
We have all felt deep disgust and heartbreak as the revelations have come out about Bill Cosby drugging women to have sex. He was our TV Dad. He was the one who made us enjoy the simple comic moments of family life. He was the clean comedian we could watch with our children. Now, his image is shattered and we all feel tainted.
There is great risk in becoming a model of one’s advocacy. This is particularly true when one lives outside the norm and challenges beliefs. The risks are great. However, if it is done with integrity and humility, the impact can be extraordinary.
Outside of the Box Advocacy:
Living What One Believes
Living outside the Norm