Since his election to the Papacy on Wednesday--and, thanks to the media coverage, we know this--this particular pontiff is setting a telling tone for the papacy. His pre-elevation practices included riding the bus to work (and he rode the bus back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae); cooking his own meals; washing the feet of AIDS patients; and living in a simple apartment.
Pope Francis' lifestyle reflects his saintly namesake. It also embodies today's second reading from Philippians, in which Paul admits, "I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him" (Phil 3:8-9).
The Holy Father departed from his prepared address to the media in order to comment on the rationale behind his choice of appellation. It has everything to do with Saint Francis of Assisi and his love for the poor and for simplicity of life. No surprise, this; he envisions a "Church that is poor and for the poor."
In the 1968 movie The Shoes of the Fisherman, Pope Kiril (another unexpected choice of man and moniker) expresses his desire to give away the Church's riches. Can we expect such a bold move from Pope Francis?
There has been some local precedent for this, with Philadelphia's Archbishop Chaput selling the imposing "Cardinal's Residence" along City Avenue, not to mention the college division of my alma mater, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Fellow Capuchin Cardinal O'Malley of Boston sold his mansion, as well. Now these archdioceses have been experiencing considerable financial strain of late, which may be one reason for the liquidation of properties. But these moves have not gone unquestioned.
Some people believe that properties, and for that matter any ecclesial "treasures," belong not to one man but to the Church (local or universal) and should not be sold. Into whose hands will buildings fall, and shouldn't the intended use reflect the seller's values? As for the artwork, scrolls, books, and other precious components of the Church's patrimony, do we not hold these things for the sake of the world, so that people everywhere may appreciate the cultural and religious heritage which Mother Church has had such a hand in preserving? After the Church gets all this money, what will she do with it? How long will it last? How long and how much will the poor really profit from it? "The poor you will always have with you" (Mt 26:11), Jesus said. By the time the money runs out, the lot of the world or nation or region's poor will not have improved suddenly and forever. There's much more to poverty than having insufficient funds.
We will find out whether the liquidation of ecclesial assets is on Pope Francis' to-do list. For now, however, he definitely wants to be in mundo conversatus--present with the people. That may be tough for the security agents to handle, but there are people of unsound mind and cruel intentions everywhere. If Cardinal Bergoglio survived Buenos Aires, Pope Francis can survive Rome.
The Church often has been challenged to demonstrate more credibly her identification with the poor and marginalized. Would Christ's Mystical Body really suffer from the loss of property? Is it time for the Church to accept the challenge of the age and divest herself of earthly wealth so that Christ may be everything to us? Whatever his program, I'm sure Francis wants to inspire and motivate clergy, in particular, toward a more tangible commitment to evangelical poverty and hospitality.
The above-quoted passage from Philippians is the substance of paragraph 428 of the Catechism. In a brief section on Christ as "The Heart of Catechesis" we find one of Pope Benedict's favorite points, one dear to the heart of his successor. In order to be able to catechize, i.e. to share the content of our faith ("fides quae"), we must be equally willing to share our relationship of faith ("fides qua")--which means we must be cultivating a relationship with the Lord through prayer, reception of the Sacraments, holy conversation and reading, and fidelity to the commandments. As we experience daily joys and hardships, we ought to speak about them to Jesus. We should ask Him to help us to learn from every experience in life, how the experience relates to some aspect of His life and how we can grow in the knowledge and love of His holy will.
"Everything must go," all right: Spending ourselves in service, everything about us must go toward the spiritual and material poverty throughout the world, in our households, families, parishes, schools, and workplaces.