The Gospel of simplicity: Pope Francis practices what he preaches Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Last year the Catholic Church had something almost unprecedented happen: a pope resigned his office. Pope Benedict XVI said that due to his advanced age, he was “no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” He was the first pope to resign in more than 600 years.

On March 13, 2013, the cardinals gathered in their conclave elected Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th successor of St. Peter. He took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi.

Humility and connection with people

I remember watching the broadcast from Salt & Light Television as Pope Francis came out onto the balcony at St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time. What especially impressed me was when Pope Francis asked a favor of the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square: Before he blessed them, he asked the people to pray for him.

That profound humility and connection with people has characterized the pontificate of Pope Francis. “Let us pray for one another,” he said in his message to the people after his election. “Let us pray for the whole world that there be a great brotherhood.”

We learned after his election that Pope Francis’ style as archbishop of Buenos Aires had been low-key and close to the people. He rode the bus, visited the poor, lived in a simple apartment, and cooked his own meals.

Living a simple lifestyle

We figured that would all change when he become the pope. Wrong! Pope Francis has continued to live a simple lifestyle -- as much as is possible for the Holy Father.

He chose to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors. In addition, he is known for favoring simpler vestments devoid of ornamentation and he kept the simple cross used when he was a bishop.

He surprised people by carrying his own bags from his residence and onto airplanes. Someone told me that he went to a meeting at the pope’s residence last summer and Pope Francis arrived carrying all the materials for the meeting himself. And he was very well-prepared!

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., has said that Pope Francis adheres to a “Gospel of simplicity.” “He is by all accounts a very gentle but firm, very loving but fearless, a very pastoral and caring person ideal for the challenges today,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

By carrying his own bag, Pope Francis is seeking to demonstrate humility and a closer connection to regular people, said an article in the Washington Post. These small acts can be symbolically powerful.

Practices what he preaches

Above all, I think Pope Francis has proven to the world that he practices what he preaches. I have read nearly all of his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”). It should be required reading for all Catholics.

In talking about teaching others about the faith, Pope Francis says, “We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love, and witness.”

Ultimately it is by our own example that we will teach best and spread the joy of the Gospel. Pope Francis is showing us how to do it.