Since his installation, Pope Francis has impressed much of the world with his humility. Shunning the ostentatious outfits worn by his predecessors, the new Pope has exchanged red silk shoes for regular black leather ones, a golden crucifix around his neck for a plain iron one and ditched altogether the furred ermine stoles we often saw Pope Benedict wear. He's chosen not to live in the luxury of the Apostolic "palace," but in community with other priests in a nearby dormitory. He has washed the feet of prisoners, including notably two women, one a Muslim, both papal firsts. He even picked up his own luggage and paid his own bill at the hotel used during the Conclave.
Humble style isn't new for Pope Francis. As an archbishop he lived in a simple downtown apartment, took the bus to work, and cooked his own meals. He was a challenging example of a true pastoral heart to the priests who served under his care. He once stated that he believed too many priests had become administrators rather than pastors.
Priests, he said, should strive to "go out to meet the people," especially those who were not a part of his church. The pastor who confines himself in the rectory, he stated, is not an "authentic pastor."
His lifestyle has been a powerful challenge to clergy excess and entitlement, for both Catholics and Protestants.
Simplicity or Duplicity?
I know that most pastors live lives that we could call "simple." We're often underpaid, underappreciated and underwhelmed by the results of our ministries—both in our quality of life, and in our retirement accounts.
Yet we still see a flood of images of "successful" pastors. They're living large. He or she leads a large congregation, lives in a large house, has a large book publishing deal and speaks to large conferences for large fees.
And it's those pastors that many of us long to become.
We might not easily admit it, but we long for the larger churches, the prestige and financial security that comes with all of it. Every year we wistfully read the lists of 100 Most Influential churches, 100 Most Influential Pastors, 100 Most Elegant Pastoral Homes (okay, I made that last one up… but give it time), and we daydream about it being us. Or worse, we look at those who have "made the cut" with a certain level of resentment.
It's not simply our hearts that are at fault here. In some Christian circles (I'm looking at you Prosperity people), it's a given in the pews that the pastor should drive one of the nicer, if not the nicest car in the congregation, should live in a fine house and wear fine clothes. After all, how else could we assess God's blessing on our leader?
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