We could all take a lesson from Pope Francis

Contributing WriterMarch 10, 2014 

We often succumb to the forces of our desires. Be it food, sex or money, the weight of what we want often trumps the voice in our head that tells us to “just say no.”

While my first two examples are biological drives that give us the life to desire them in the first place, what exactly is money when it comes to our insatiable need to obtain it?

We live in a culture where our success can almost be quantified, often with a number preceded by the dollar sign. We not only crave for this number to increase, but also for the material items it can purchase for us.

Of course there is value in money. It is the core function of how our economy works. It also gives us a roof over our head, food on our table and a bed to sleep in. It is not that money should not be valued, and material items should not be desired — they should. It is the idolatry of them and the significant driving force it is for many of us that needs a reevaluation.

When I was a young child, my favorite holiday, like many other young children, was Christmas. I could hardly sleep the night before in anticipation of ripping open all of the gifts I had asked for. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to get many of the things I wanted, often being the envy of my friends. Whether it was a brand new sports jacket or the latest and greatest video game console, I asked and often received. I was what some of my friends called a spoiled child.

During this time, the material gifts I received on Christmas were important to me. They gave me something to look forward to, something I could physically hold, cherish and enjoy. As I got older though, Christmas got less and less special, and gifts did not hold the same meaning they once did. If you asked me today, I could not tell you the last Christmas where I actually asked for anything. Obviously, I have changed.

It was this transition into adulthood, as some might call it, “maturing,” that has allowed me to reflect on what is important in life and the value I place on money and material items. I have learned that although money is nice to have, as are things, they are not the answer to true happiness.

Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013. I knew very little about this man, so I decided to open up the issue and change that. It did not take but half a page into the piece before I realized that this man was not like any other pope; he was special. I learned that in being chosen into a position backed by immense wealth and influence, Pope Francis was humble, resonating humility not only in his speech but in his actions.

He could live like a king, but chooses not to do so. Instead of residing in the fancy papal palace, he lives more simply in a spare hostel. He has the option to be driven in his own Mercedes, but opts for an old Ford Focus and can sometimes even be seen taking the bus.

So how is it that a man with so much wealth and power, who can conceivably live however he pleases, chooses such an austere lifestyle? I think it comes down to one thing, and that is his values. Pope Francis places greater value on being humble and helping those in need than of desiring great wealth. For this, he is an inspiration to me.

Since we are all different in our desires, I am not suggesting we should all be like Pope Francis. But maybe we can take a lesson from him. We can appreciate the example he sets toward living a bit simpler of a life. We can also, even if not called for, practice humility. In doing so, the next time that voice in our head tells us to “just say no,” we just might listen.

Ben Kastenbaum of Tacoma, a graduate of Stadium High School and the University of Puget Sound, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email him at benkastenbaum@gmail.com.

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