Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wealth & Comfort

How much damage does the comfortable life, well-being, do … The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us.
These words were spoken by Pope Francis three weeks ago, and have haunted me ever since. About a month prior to the pope's homily, I read about people paying tens of thousands of dollars in order to watch first-run movies in their homes. At the time, it seemed like an appalling luxury. But now, I think about my Hulu Plus subscription and wonder if there is really much difference, other than the price.

Yes, my wife and I live simply, free of extravagance, but we are certainly comfortable. I am presently writing this post from a comfortable couch in a comfortable apartment in a comfortable neighborhood. It is the typical American life. But such life is a pleasant fraud, because it demands we prioritize the maintenance of comfort over the service of God and our family. That is the haunting truth of the pope's warning.

It is also the truth lived by the pope's namesake. Just this week, my wife and I finished reading Donald Spoto's biography of Francis of Assisi, "Reluctant Saint". Something new catches my soul each time I read it, and this time around it was Francis' embrace of poverty. He rejected so much of the stuff we crave, yet still lived a life of wealth and comfort, of the kind that actually lasts. As his prayer "The Praises of God" proclaims, "You are all the riches we need." Francis had our life, or at least the medieval version of it, and then chose a better one, a beautiful one. This haunts me as well.

These truths tug at me insistently and urgently, but I am too paralyzed to follow them. How do you escape the comfortable life when it is so oppressively omnipresent, and has always been so? Francis himself was bitterly disappointed by his brothers' failure to maintain the life of poverty he so loved. "Gentrification of the heart" is an insidious disease, because even those of us who see the comfortable life for the fraud that it is just cannot seem to shake its grasp. I have let go of many wants and needs this past year, but so many remain, even if others might consider them insignificant. They haunt me, as they should. May you too be blessed with such a haunting.