Father George Smiga
October 27, 2013
Pope Francis has been causing quite a stir in Rome. This is not only by his teaching and administration, but also because of his lifestyle. Instead of residing in the Papal Palace, he stays in an apartment in the Vatican guest house and eats in the cafeteria with the other people who stay there. Instead of wearing papal gowns and red velvet slippers, he sticks to the simple white cassock and walks around in work shoes. Instead of being chauffeured in a limousine, he packs up his briefcase every morning and he walks the streets of Vatican City to his office.
Now, these choices that the Pope has made certainly send a message of simplicity and humility to the world. But that is not why he chose to make them. In a recent interview, the Pope stated that he chose to live this way for his own benefit. He quoted a line from St. Ignatius of Loyola who said, “God is not constrained by the biggest things but contained in the smallest things.”
The pope quoted this line to reveal an important truth. He lives in the way he does in order to see God. There is nothing wrong with living in the Papal Palace but it is harder to see God there. This is because when we are in the presence of the biggest things, we can think that they are about us. There is nothing wrong with being served breakfast in the papal dining room, but you miss the way that God can speak to you in conversation with others in the cafeteria line and in the discussion of what they plan to do this day with their lives. The Pope’s lifestyle is not so much against wealth as it is against isolation. He knows that God is to be found in the smallest things, in the connection that we have to one another in the ordinary routines of daily life.
This is something that the Pharisee in the gospel does not see. He rightly is proud of his accomplishments. It is a good thing that he is honest, that he fasts twice a week and gives one-tenth of his earnings to the poor. But instead of using these big things to join himself to others, he uses them to separate himself from others. Somehow he thinks that he is going to be better off by surrounding himself with his accomplishments than by identifying with the weakness and sinfulness that he shares with others.
The tax collector does not make this mistake. He knows who he is. He knows that he is weak and fragile. He asks for God’s mercy. Therefore, he goes home justified, right with God, because he is able to see God in the smallest things, in the weak things, in the broken things. That is where God’s presence is most clear.
So it is a good thing if at school you have a group of friends who support you and you enjoy. It is a good thing if you are popular on campus. But it is when you speak to someone outside your group of friends, it is when you say good morning to someone who is less popular than you are, that God is most likely to speak to you and reveal God’s presence. Parents have important responsibilities to earn money, to make sure that schedules are followed, to make decisions on family life. But it is when you stop to ask your six-year-old what she is coloring or ask your teenage son what went on in school today, that you are most likely to discover God in your family life. We all look forward to having a nice dinner with friends or relaxing in front of the television at night. But it is when we decide that we are going to visit someone who is sick or grieving or help someone who is struggling or alone, that we are most likely to see God. There is nothing wrong with living in a papal palace or wearing expensive shoes but those things divide us rather than unite us. There is nothing wrong with being proud of the things that you have accomplished but there can be so much of you in them that you do not see where God is.
“God is not constrained by the biggest things but is contained in the smallest things.” Today’s gospel then calls us to be attentive to the smallest, most ordinary, weakest things in our lives and to reach out to those who need us and who struggle. By doing this, we not only help others, but we also become able to find God in them.