by Rob Asghar
December 27, 2013

from Forbes Website


The Vatican is being seen in a new light due to Pope Francis.

So too, will our concepts of success.




How great will Pope Francis’ impact be?


Beyond his impact within his own 1.2 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church, he may well redefine modern concepts of success, wealth and prestige for our larger society. (I say this as a non-Catholic.)


But let’s be realistic. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen without withering criticism of him along the way, from the left and right and, hell, even from the mafia, who are rumored to have placed him on a hit list because of his startlingly aggressive reforms.


The changes he may bring about are due to his leadership prowess (discussed more in a separate article) and his unsurpassed global platform. But they’re also due to the fact that his values mirror some awakening aspirations of the larger world beyond his church walls.


Let’s look at how the still-newish pope is likely to change society’s concepts of success:



Francis is making it easier for ambitious people to value simplicity


The hardest task for a top leader, religious or otherwise, is to pass up any of the swag bags and perks of high office.


Enter Francis, who declined to live in the luxurious papal suite in order to remain in the relatively humbler Vatican guesthouse, and who chooses simple garments over ornate ones.


Francis might have seemed a bit naïve or quaint if he’d poped a generation or two ago, back when society worried less about environmental limits or sustainability. But millennials today are gripped by doubts about whether they can live at the posh levels of past generations, as well as suspicions that the ways of the past aren’t sustainable.


This pope will inspire them to make an impact that goes beyond having nice possessions.



Francis is changing how we distinguish between "important people" and "unimportant" ones


While a Billy Graham seemed to take special pride in counseling presidents within the splendid halls of power, Francis has made a career of quietly heading out to slums in order to care for marginalized people. 


And, strikingly, he asks those people to pray for him, which is a subtle but powerful reminder that the people at society’s margins too have something meaningful to give.



Francis is reintroducing a healthy tension between the concept of virtue and the practice of capitalism


Just google up "Francis and antichrist," and you’ll get some fascinating "proofs" that the pope has 666 tattooed somewhere on his body. In fact, Francis is more the anti-Ayn Rand, the polar opposite of that uber-capitalist who blamed the poor for their own misfortune.


I wrote a few days ago about the conundrum that arises when Christian belief come into contact with aggressive capitalism. Francis goes so far as to say that excessive admiration for capitalism can be a kind of idolatry, a worshipping of the golden calf.


Granted, Francis’ pronouncements on capitalism may be imperfect or incomplete or misguided in the minds of some.


Still, he is the first global religious leader in maybe centuries to bring up the elephant in the room, which is the tension between the Ayn Rand school of economics and the great world religions such as Christianity.



Francis is drawing a dividing line between high status and good character


The photos of Francis clasping, kissing and blessing a disfigured man caused a global stir this past November.


We’ve seen many people be pope or priest or politician - but we’ve seen few use their power in a more humanizing manner.

"Character is destiny," Heraclitus said.

And in that moment, Francis exemplified a manner of character that most of us admire but which few of us could match.


Such displays of character make critics treat him with far greater respect than they otherwise would. And it is such displays of character that will remind Catholics, non-Catholics, agnostics and atheists alike that power and position aren’t ends in themselves.


Rather, power and position are means for displaying virtue and character.



Francis is building a path for civil discussion of our worst hot-button issues


For the moment, at least, it’s good to be pope. Francis has managed to make himself the darling of some progressives.


Still, expect the honeymoon to end soon enough, and for Francis to come increasingly under fire by progressives as they realize he will not go as far as they would hope on issues such as gender and sex.


Meanwhile, Francis has already been pilloried by Rush Limbaugh and others on the right for being a Marxist in shepherd’s robing.


Our times are ridiculously contentious. Conservatives bristle at how Francis states the Occupy movement’s case with greater eloquence than that movement itself could muster.


And many progressives grouse about how the Catholic church is the same old church despite its new tone.


Still, Francis should manage to unite liberals and conservatives in some meaningful way.  Both may come to understand that Francis is motivated by loftier and more complex values than black-and-white partisanship.


In that case, a more civil tone would finally be possible in our hopelessly gridlocked democratic societies.


And that may well become Francis’ greatest contribution of all.