One of the many outbursts that St. Francis is remembered to have exhibited during the early years of the Franciscan Order centered on the Saint’s concern about the stability of the friars. I should point out that this was about the “stability” of housing, not to be confused with one’s “mental stability.” Although, even during Francis’s lifetime, the pope intervened to impose a “year of probation” or the novitiate on the new Franciscan Order because Francis wasn’t actually all that concerned with the mental health of aspirants to his way of life and would let any person, stable or not, to join the community. This obviously led to a number of community-centered problems that the curial intervention sought to rectify. In any event, stability here has to do with Francis’s belief that the friars, following in the footprints of Jesus Christ, should live sine proprio (“without anything of one’s own”) — and this included housing.
The brothers were permitted to dwell in simple places, which had to be on loan to them for they were forbidden by virtue of the vow to live sine proprio from owning anything. And, these dwelling were to be simple. The particularly colorful outburst of Francis that comes to mind occurred when he came across a community of friars living in what we might think of as a rectory, replete with a non-leaky, yet basic roof. Francis climbed up on the roof and started ripping up the tiles and throwing them down onto the ground, incensed that the friars had sought the stability that his understanding of Gospel life prohibited (following Jesus’s own admittance in the Gospel of Matthew that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”).
Pope Francis has, yet again, appears to demonstrate a sense of simplicity and the spirit of sine proprio that would make his namesake proud.
According to John Thavis, the former Catholic News Service Rome chief and Vatican insider, and recently confirmed by a recent CNS story, Pope Francis has decided to live in the guest quarters on the papal property in lieu of the more palatial apartment reserved for the Bishop of Rome. Thavis explains:
Word comes from the Vatican today that, as speculated here last week, Pope Francis is opting to stay in the Vatican guest house rather than moving into the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace — at least for now.
The reasons seem clear: Francis likes simplicity, and his quarters at the Domus Sanctae Marthae are much more simple than the 10-room apartment on the other side of St. Peter’s Square. He also likes being with people, and at the Domus he’s been much less cut off than in the Apostolic Palace. He celebrates Mass with groups every morning, shares meals with other guests in the dining room and sometimes goes outside to walk.
This means the new pope will be “commuting” through the Vatican Gardens to his office area in the Apostolic Palace, where he generally meets with aides and visiting guests. But that’s the way he wants it, and it’s his decision — after all, he is pope.
There is no need here to fear the ghost of the Poverello climbing up on top of the Papal guest house to throw roof tiles to the ground. I have a feeling the Saint from Assisi would be quite pleased with this decision, even if it is — as most of the new pontiff’s actions have been so far — more symbolic than anything else. The symbolism is greatly appreciated. It’s nice to see a bit of regal papal stability replaced with the foolishness of Gospel living.
This was also published at America Magazine.