My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

HABEMUS PAPAM!  God Bless Pope Francis!

“So passes the glory of the world.”

I was watching EWTN’s coverage of the sfumata and the announcement that we once again have a Pontiff, and one of the commentators mentioned this phrase.  It comes from the rite of the coronation of a Pontiff; the best description that I could find of this rite is in Henry Morton Robinson’s 1950 novel The Cardinal, with its fictional description of the Coronation of Pope Pius XII:

     A cowled monk approached. In one hand he carried a lighted taper; in the other, a tuft of wax-impregnated hemp. Bowing to His Holiness, the monk brought flame and hemp together. Fire flashed momentarily, then vanished in smoke.
     “Sic transit gloria mundi,” cried the monk.
     As the procession moved at the tempo of high ritual past the statue of St. Peter, the symbolic act of earthly consummation was re-enacted. In sepulchral tones, “Sic transit” reverberated through the Basilica.
     To remind the Pope of the fearful jeopardy in which he would live, and the ultimate dust to which mortal glories return, the hooded monitor approached him for the third time. Again flame met hemp, again the lugubrious warning sounded: “Sic transit gloria mundi.”

“So passes the glory of the world.” And yet the Church remains. She does not pass away. She has withstood 21 centuries. For all the talk by the secular media about corruption, intrigue, and scandal, the Church is not on the verge of collapse. Our Lord has promised us this: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” the Church (cf. Mt. 16:18). The Church remains. She will always remain. For She is not a committee or a club, loosely bound together by a vague goal; she is a Body, the Body of a Living Person, the Person of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As He “dieth now no more, death shall no more have dominion over Him” (cf. Rom. 6:9), so neither will She.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, in The Divine Romance, describes the Church:
The Church . . . is the continuation of the Incarnation. It is not an institution like a bank, but a life, not an organization like a club, but an organism, not something horizontal extending from the Apostles as men to us as other men, but as something vertical in which Divine Life descends first from God to Christ, and then on to us in the Church.

The Church does not exist to be the plaything of the secular media; and nothing the media says…none of their speculations over whether Pope Francis will do this or will Pope Francis do that…will change the reason for Her existence.

Yes, there is corruption within the Church…She is composed of weak, fallible, sinful human beings. Those blessed to live within her sacred fold are not impeccable; if they were, what sort of message would that send to the rest of sinful, struggling humanity? It would be the “Noli tangere“–Do not touch Me–of Our Lord to Magdalen, but without His humility, a “Noli tangere” stemming from pride, disgusted by the sinfulness of those outside Her. But the Church does not look down upon the sinful; She does not tear them down, belittle them; She draws them to Herself! She draws them upward, onward, “UP…UP…Up to God!”–to “the Perfect Life, Perfect Truth, and Perfect Love, Which is God” (cf. Sheen, Characters of the Passion and Three to Get Married).

Sheen argues that it is the fallibility of the Church that will draw men to Her.  He is not condoning sin, but saying that the Church and Her leaders are able to have compassion on the infirmities of men, because Her members, too, are tempted (cf. Heb. 4:14).  He explains this in The Fullness of Christ:

Suppose every Vicar of Christ was a saint; suppose every member of His Mystical Body was another St. John the Baptist or another St. Theresa.  Would not her very perfection accuse and condemn those who were outside?  Too high an ideal often repels rather than attracts.  She would be so saintly that she would no longer allure ordinary mortals.  She might even appear to struggling souls as a terrible Puritan, easily scandalized at our failings, who might shrink from having her garments touched by sinners like ourselves.  Where then would faith be for those who doubted?  Where would hope be for those who were unholy?  Where would charity be for those who were in sin?  No, a perfect Church would be a stumbling block.  Then, instead of men being scandalized at her, she would be scandalized at men–which would be far worse.  (Sheen, The Fullness of Christ, [Washington, D.C.: National Council of Catholic Men, 1935?], 55-56)

As Pope Francis asked us, “Let us always pray for one another,” so let us pray for those outside the fold of the Church who detract Her, simply because they do not understand. One day their glory will pass, too. One day the glory of each of us, individual members of the Church of Christ, will pass. But the glory of the Church will not pass.

For She is Christ’s.

And Christ is God’s.

And God is Eternal.

Viva Papa Francisco!

Let us pray for our Pope Francis.
May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

V. Thou art Peter,
R. And upon this Rock, I will build My Church.

Let us Pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon your servant, Francis, our Sovereign Pontiff, and guide him in Your goodness on the way of eternal salvation; so that, with the prompting of Your grace, he may desire what pleases You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord.
R. Amen.
V. Mother of the Church.
R. Pray for us.
V. St. Peter.

R. Pray for us.