No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
-- Matthew 6:24
Anyone who knows the story of St. Francis of Assisi imagines him standing in a field with a bird perched on his hand. It's a cliché because it perfectly illustrates his character. He was a saint who, so completely imitated the life of Jesus Christ that he, became someone utterly trustworthy and good. According to his legend, even animals sensed they were safe around him. When he became a monk, he did it alone. He didn't join an order but simply attempted to obey a passage in the Bible where Jesus asked his followers to go out into the world with no shoes on their feet and no money in their pockets. Within a year, he had 11 followers. Eight hundred years later, he inspired a Pope to adopt his name and follow his example. The rule of St. Francis was radically simple: "To live the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to follow in his footsteps." It's the essence of Christianity, a life built on Christ's core teaching: to love God and live with compassion for others.
Our current Pope calls himself Francis for a reason: His own life exemplifies what St. Francis lived, and what Jesus embodied. He's an extraordinary individual, maybe the most charismatic Pope in modern history. He lives in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace. He gets around in a Ford Focus. In his recent, startling critique of capitalism, he called on the free world's most powerful organizations, our corporate and financial titans, to have a conscience. Call it compassionate capitalism. It's an encouraging sign that one of the world's most powerful religious institutions may become a voice for better choices in the secular world.
In his recent exhortation, Francis went further than in the past in his skepticism over the global economy. What you decide to do with your money represents a cornerstone of a moral life. There's nothing new in calling out greed as a deadly sin, but Pope Francis got specific, asking the rich to prioritize a number of things that might not seem to be an immediate obligation: to improve working conditions, and work toward universal education and health care. In other words, he may be someone who has spent countless hours contemplating God, but he's also acutely savvy about how the world works. He sees the growing income gap in the developed world, especially in the United States as a spiritual threat, and he can see far enough ahead to know where it leads. He asked that those who have the most share their wealth with those who don't. Again, not exactly an original request, but he suggested that the refusal to do so is quite literally deadly: It kills. Greed, in his eyes, is murderous.
Today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?
I wouldn't be surprised if our new Pope reads both the Bible and the Wall Street Journal, and he's wondering how he can help make one consistent with the other. It's inspiring to think that the Pope isn't simply asking individuals to be better people, but is examining the economic structure of the world and recognizing that a divisive economy endangers us. The lucky and industrious few can't thrive forever if the majority continues to fall behind. Those who have control of most of the world's wealth need to listen to someone who is as far from the world of business as a human being can get -- someone humble enough to get down on his knees and wash the feet of a commoner as an act of service. Wealth and power bring with them an enormous responsibility to others. I suspect the Pope won't let us forget it.
I am not a member of the Catholic Church. I am, however, one who calls himself a Christian. It's hard in our society to actually follow the example set by Jesus, considering the radical simplicity of his life, his deeds, and his words. Our culture seems counter to what Jesus preached. That's why one has to salute and praise a leader who stands against the tide of power, material possessions and greed. I hope and pray indeed that Pope Francis will keep on doing, preaching and engaging with our minds and hearts. Catholics, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists--followers of all religions--we all need Pope Francis to keep on trucking.
Peter Georgescu is the author of The Constant Choice. Follow him on Twitter.