July 28, 2013 Updated: July 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm
Pope Francis cannot be more clear. He wants the faithful to focus less on materialism, more on God and his greatest creation - humanity.
No hypocrite, the humble pope has shunned as many grandiose papal amenities as his handlers will allow. He even chose to put his life at risk by refusing to ride in the ultra-high-security popemobile in favor of a humble Fiat with open windows, placing him closer to the people during this week's visit to Rio De Janeiro. He has asked priests around the globe to give up fancy cars and other flashy possessions and to focus primarily on service to the needy and poor.
"He's used that phrase that we have to get out to the streets, we can't stay locked up in our sacristies, we can't be navel-gazing all the time," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.
It's an inspiring, heartwarming and important message, especially for the Catholic church in the United States. Catholic immigrants from Latin America and other regions are often shocked and put off by the somewhat bureaucratic, impersonal and church-business-first attitude that has crept into so many American churches and episcopates. Most American priests are loving and humble servants of Jesus, men who also devote their lives to the sick and poor. But among them are a few loving servants who wear Rolex Yacht-Masters and drive cars that better suit Wall Street bankers in mid-life crisis. To those few opulent priests, the Pope is saying "enough."
The church, Pope Francis insists, must devote itself to the poor, the suffering and outcasts of society. This is hardly a new mission. The Catholic church, beyond question, serves as the single-largest social services organization in the world. It is frightening to imagine society without Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and the countless soup kitchens, homeless shelters, AIDS hospices, worldwide missionaries, hospitals, schools and universities the church founded and has operated for centuries. Though media obsess when something goes wrong among the ranks of prelates and priests, for every priest-gone-bad are seemingly countless priests, brothers, nuns and devout laity who give their lives to the service of others. More of this charity, which Pope Francis wants to see, can only make the world a better place.
Yet Catholics must not quit their day jobs in droves in order to serve the sick, poor and outcasts of society. God provides, but he does so just as he creates. He uses process and time. When God provides medicine and food for the sick and poor, he does so through human intelligence, innovation and productivity.
If a priest heeds the Pope's advice and sells a Rolex or a fancy car, giving proceeds to the poor, the providence results only because someone else produced wealth through acts of service and productivity that improved the human condition.
Religious charity provides a priceless distribution network that brings care and services to those who cannot help themselves for an infinite assortment of reasons. Some of the sick, needy and poor are born in barren, drought-stricken lands abundant mostly with bugs and disease. Others are born without marketable intelligence or skills, or are harmed by natural or man-made disasters.
But charitable distribution, like taxation and government redistribution of wealth, cannot exist in a void of human prosperity. Conversely, human prosperity has no ultimate value in a non-charitable world in which self-interest reigns supreme.
Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists and others of all beliefs should support Pope Francis in his worldwide call for a more selfless and charitable world that creates and shares an abundance of wealth, created by God through acts of human innovation and work.