Wilton Gregory is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta, Georgia. Why is he in the news today? When his archdiocese received a $15 million gift three years ago, he used $2.2 million to construct a new home for himself.
It's not what it seems. The local cathedral needed space for its priests, so it purchased his old home. The archbishop needed a new residence, so he and his advisers designed a nearly 6,400-square-foot estate. They intended its large meeting spaces and rooms to be used for receptions, meetings, and other ministry purposes.
However, they didn't count on Pope Francis.
The new pope famously turned down living quarters in the papal mansion and drives a 1984 Renault donated by a friend. He lives as simply as possible and encourages priests around the world to do the same, using church finances to help the poor. In January, a group of Atlanta Catholics cited the pope's example when they asked Archbishop Gregory to sell the large home.
Now the archbishop has apologized for the mansion: "I personally failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia. I failed to consider the impact on the families throughout the Archdiocese who, though struggling to pay their mortgages, utilities, tuition and other bills, faithfully respond year after year to my pleas to assist with funding our ministries and services."
He will discuss the situation with church representatives. If they want him to sell the residence, he will do so. As he explains, "the example of the Holy Father, and the way people of every sector of our society have responded to his message of gentle joy and compassion without pretense, has set the bar for every Catholic and even for many who don't share our communion."
Our example is our greatest witness.
As society turns increasingly against our faith, people may dispute our theology and reject our preaching, but they cannot ignore our character. Consider Malcolm Muggeridge, a renowned religious skeptic before he interviewed Mother Teresa in 1970. Later he wrote: "I will never forget that little lady as long as I live. The face, the glow, the eyes, the love—it was all so pure and so beautiful. I shall never forget it. It was like being in the presence of an angel. It changed my life. I have not been the same person since. It is more than I can describe." He spent the rest of his life proclaiming and defending the faith he once rejected.
Be encouraged: if you will love God and love your neighbor today, God will use your compassion and character to sow seeds of transforming grace wherever you go. What a privilege it is to partner with the King of Kings in changing our world, one soul at a time.