Pope Francis urged priests and nuns to avoid flashy cars as part of his push to renew the Catholic Church’s focus on the poor.
I like Pope Francis. While I’m not a Catholic, and have nothing against Catholics, I wasn’t all that impressed with his predecessor.
But Francis is quickly making a positive impression with me.
This week, we learned that he recently offered advice that is sure to ruffle a few feathers:
“A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.”
I’m not suggesting — and I don’t think the Pope meant — that clergy should be driving around in oil-burning jalopies. But there’s a good point here: why, when there’s so much suffering in the world, does a priest or a nun need a top-dollar automobile? Sure, for each of us, God knows our heart. But we also send messages to each other about what’s in our heart. It’s hard to appear focused on the needy and the lost when you’re adorning yourself like the wealthy.
“It hurts me when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model car, you can’t do this,” Pope Francis said.
The Bible makes the position on preoccupation with wealth and material goods quite clear in Matthew 6:24:
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Yet nearly every Sunday, I hear a local pastor on television preaching what I would call “Prosperity Gospel.” He bases his messages around passages like Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” To this pastor, apparently, “plans to prosper you” means plans to give you a nice car, a big house and a healthy bank account.
I have a hard time believing that God could remotely care whether you drive a Mercedes or have an 11-bedroom mansion in a gated community. I suspect God is far more interested in how you treat those around you and how you communicate the true nature of God, Christ and the gift of salvation rather than focusing on how much you have here.
But it’s a lot more uncomfortable for us to read passages like these, that make it a lot more clear what that “prosperity” God talks about is:
“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” — Luke 12:33
That prosperity isn’t here. It’s heaven. And I think heaven will be a much better place than this world will ever be.