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Atlanta archbishop's new $2.2 million residence that came under heavy criticism. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

’Tis a Gift to Be Simple

Pope Francis’ decision to forgo the apostolic palace for simpler surroundings is by now old news. Yet the example he set in the first weeks of his papacy has had a lasting effect. In Germany, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg resigned after spending about $43 million renovating his private residence. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta responded to the voices of the faithful in his archdiocese by taking steps to downsize the archbishop’s residence. And recently in Scotland, newly appointed Bishop John Keenan of Paisley chose to live in a parish house with a local priest rather than in a sandstone villa used by previous bishops.

Bishop Keenan explained that he wanted to live simply, but also echoed Pope Francis’ desire to be part of a community, saying he hoped to find “people who could form a family with me and support me.” His example serves as a reminder that we should not live simply solely for the sake of sanctifying ourselves, but we must do so on behalf of others as members of the body of Christ. And the call to live simple, communal lives is not for clerics alone. All Catholics strive to live out “the common priesthood of the faithful,” and we must challenge each other to examine our own actions and motives: Do we condemn others’ extravagance while isolating ourselves in enormous houses fenced off from our neighbors? Do we call for greater community and then walk by our neighbors without greeting them? Do we remember Paul’s words in the First Letter to the Corinthians? “If I give away everything I own…but do not have love, I gain nothing” (13:3).

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Nigeria Takes the Lead

A long overdue “rebasement” of Nigeria’s gross domestic product in early April nearly doubled the nominal size of the country’s economy overnight. Incorporating new sectors like telecommunications and the booming film industry, the recalculation more accurately reflects the real economic gains made by the most populous nation in Africa over the past two decades and pushes it ahead of South Africa as the continent’s largest economy.

Under different circumstances, this new ranking might have inspired a measure of national pride. As it is, the news throws into sharp relief the disturbing reality that impressive growth rates have done little to improve the lives of most Nigerians. Extreme poverty—61 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day—and a severe lack of government services and infrastructure are at the root of the insecurity that plagues the country’s majority Muslim north. A week after the new G.D.P. was announced, Boko Haram, the Islamist rebel group, carried out a rare bombing attack in the capital city of Abuja, killing more than 70, and abducted an estimated 200 girls from a boarding school in Borno State. According to Amnesty International, in 2014 alone at least 1,500 people, more than half of them civilians, have been killed in a relentless cycle of attacks, reprisals and executions.

There can be no justification for the atrocities committed by Boko Haram. But the grievances that fuel the insurgency—corruption, deteriorating or nonexistent infrastructure, the impunity of security forces—are shared by many of the country’s impoverished regions. The next 20 years of economic growth must foster inclusive development and good governance if Nigeria is to be a leader in more than just name and number.

Talking About Race

The National Basketball Association moved surprisingly quickly to punish Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for his racist remarks. Just days after his comments were made public, Mr. Sterling was fined $2.5 million and banned for life from the N.B.A. by the league’s new commissioner. Players and fans were gratified by the league’s actions, but a bad taste still lingers. Mr. Sterling was far from a model citizen prior to his repugnant remarks. In 2009, the real estate developer settled the largest-ever housing discrimination suit brought by the Justice Department. The league should have acted against Mr. Sterling long ago.

It is tempting to view the 80-year-old as a relic from another time. Mr. Sterling’s views are so appalling that they must be just the mutterings of an angry, out-of-touch man. But is that all they are? Racism may be widely condemned today, but it still reveals itself in insidious ways. In 2008, President Obama said, “The legacy of discrimination—and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past—are real and must be addressed.”

It is easy to speak out against overt acts of racism. Healing a history of discrimination is a more complex task and will require continuing education and vigilance. A quick verdict for Mr. Sterling may have provided a measure of satisfaction for N.B.A. fans, but it is important to remain alert to more subtle forms of bigotry that still happen every day.

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Bruce Snowden
4 years 5 months ago
Learning how to eat left-overs three to four times a week as a main meal, or enjoying a can of Corned Beef Hash as a main meal, is the hard part of living a simple life. Or it may simply be a sign that money is tight, and if money is that tight one may have to cut in half prescribed medications, making them last longer so as to save money which one really does not have! This stuff actually happens, especially if caught in the social squeeze of being neither so poor that Entitlements take care of virtually all need, or so rich that you are self-sufficient needing nothing. Interestingly, the Capuchin Franciscans used to remind the friars weekly “not to be poor in such a way as to want for nothing!” That’s possible you know! But it’s the middle group where one has got to “play God” so to speak, creating the necessities of life out of “nothingness!” That’s the kind of reality that has no part in the reality of God, I mean reality as God envisions it and lives it for no one leads a more simple life than God himself. Obviously there’s no place for human destitution in God’s plan, just poverty of spirit, the willingness to give and not to grasp! To just live simply. We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper and must stand ever ready to help, simplifying the extravagances that encumber the movement of the Holy Spirit within the Church whom we are. Speaking at Yankee Stadium some years ago on one of his Apostolic journeys, Saint John Paul II said that we should help alleviate human need “not out of our abundance, but out of our very substance!” In other words Christ calls upon us not just to give until it help, but until it hurts! That’s love. Under the title, “All Is A Gift” in a recent AMERICA “Of Many Things” by Editor, Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., some words to live by were offered. I think they appropriately conclude this post. “God knows it isn’t easy. So he gives us the Gifts we need to give to one another in return – the Grace of Creation, the Transformative Power of Love, the Redemptive Power of Mercy. And as if all that weren’t enough, God sent us something else: His only Son, Whose Grace not only makes possible our generosity, but Whose earthly vocation provides us with the real world example of how to do it.” I don’t know if the passion for “bigness” is more American than human, but no matter how, getting rid of the obsession for “bigness” so Jesus can teach us “how to do it," is absolutely essential. Getting rid of a bloated heart is where it starts. Need an example apart from Jesus? Check out Pope Francis, S.J.!

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