True confession: I am quite a self-indulgent person. Even though I may appear to some as pious, I have arranged my life around some sacrosanct comforts which few see—and which I've convinced myself are actually reasonably well-deserved. Goodness, anyone who goes to Mass and prays regularly should have some slack, right?
I must say, though, that even so early in our “relationship,” this new pope has rattled my cage. Benedictines have a healthy respect for Franciscan spirituality, but still believe that pantries ought to be well-stocked, closets adequately full, and beds should be comfortable. Jesus may wear the “distressing disguise of the poor,” but He also comes to visit on occasion, and likes a full-bodied wine with dinner. Hospitality is an art that can give its own glory to God—especially with the right color schemes!
Well, it didn't take long to realize that Pope Francis probably won't prioritize either a wine cellar or new cushions for the patio—despite the high caliber company who may come calling. We learned rather quickly that he preferred a small apartment to his own episcopal palace in Buenos Aires, and instead of taking on a servant of his own, he assumed the responsibilities of caregiver for a handicapped Jesuit brother—in addition to all of the responsibilities of his office. (Is it warm in here, or is it just me?)
I knew that his brief appearance on the balcony had already made a subtle impact the morning following his election. I had fiddled with my usual bread recipe and the results weren't impressive. In fact, the loaf was stiff and tasteless. My toast sat on the plate, defying the butter and jam that tried to mask the mistake—and my first thought was to throw the whole thing out. But a second thought quickly followed: What would Francis do?
It was hard to imagine that man pitching a perfectly edible loaf of bread. The man who rode mass transit, paid his own bills, and cooked his own dinner was probably inclined to suffer the consequences of his own recipes gone awry. A "Prince of the Church" who washed the feet of the poor probably lived in closer solidarity with them than this middle-class housewife—and didn't make excuses for his own whims. So I forced the blasted thing down and realized that the landscape in my world may have just shifted—considerably.
It is entirely possible that I have hidden behind words for a very long time. The work of mercy I've embraced is "instructing the ignorant," and that is something that I've found easy to do on a comfortable schedule in climate-controlled buildings. Even when I stay up late writing, it's in a safe place where I toy with sentence structure and pacing—for effect. My own cozy martyrdom!
No longer, I fear. While I have loved the rich philosophy of John Paul II, and delighted in the theology of Benedict, it may be time to stop talking about God and simply live a more integrated Christian life. God always provides what we need, and it appears that with this new Pontiff He has seen fit to stoke the fires of authentic charity in a distracted, materialistic world. Thus, it's time to reassess my own gift of self, and perhaps time to shake up the whole family as well. If God's newly-elected Shepherd has devoted himself to comforting the afflicted as an foundational expression of Christian duty, than it stands to reason that in following his lead the reverse must come to pass as well. My conscience tells me that here we have an entirely reliable yardstick.