Sic transit gloria mundi —
For many centuries, part of the Rite of Coronation for a new Pope included something rather unexpected: on three occasions while the Pope entered St. Peter's Basilica, all of the pomp and grandeur of the music and procession would pause, a small bundle of flax tied to a gilded staff was burned, and out of the silence, a single monk would chant "Pater Sante, sic transit gloria mundi"—"Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world."
It was a call to the newly-elected Pope to reject the materialism and vanity that would be temptations among the richness and power of his new office. Scripture reminds all of us of how brief and fragile our human existence is:
"All flesh is grass, and all their loyalty like the
flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it. Yes,
the people is grass! The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever" (Is. 40:6-8).
This should be no surprise to us when we hear the Gospel readings of Palm Sunday—Jesus is received into Jerusalem to great acclaim, riding on a colt with the crowds throwing down palm and olive branches before him. It was a welcome fit for a king! For that moment, the people acclaimed "King Jesus" in a fitting way, but it would not last. Only days later, some of the same people would be counted among the crowd shouting "Crucify Him!" and the "crime" posted above Jesus' head on the Cross would be the same title: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum"—Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews. Acclaim turned to rejection, celebration became humiliation, crowds gave way to abandonment, friendship was beset by betrayal and denial, and life seemingly was swallowed up in death.
It seemed as though Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was pointless—even a mockery in itself. Could the crowds have been genuine in their welcome? They certainly were. They had tried to make Jesus their King before, and He always avoided it. Jesus knew—both on a human level, and a divine one—that the human heart is fickle. We turn impulsively toward and away from God. We seek Him, and yet sometimes run away from Him… or even outright reject Him.
When we reflect on the Passion narratives in each of the Gospels, we might be able to see ourselves in nearly every role—Judas betraying, Peter denying, the other Apostles running away, the crowds shouting their rejection, Herod feigning interest in Jesus, Pilate washing his hands of responsibility. We must remember that our sins, those we commit as individuals, led Jesus to the Cross. But hopefully we can also find ourselves in other roles too—Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry the Cross, Mary Magdalene weeping at the foot of the Cross, Mary and John silently standing by to be present to Jesus, Dismas the good thief proclaiming Jesus' innocence, the Centurion who confesses "Truly this man was the Son of God." We might even find ourselves in the place of Jesus, uniting our sufferings to His, or feeling the rejection of others because of our Faith.
To see ourselves in each of these roles is to become rooted in the life of faith of a follower of Jesus Christ. We acknowledge our sins and sufferings—but we also seek Christ's grace and redemption. Yes, everything in the world is fleeting, including our own lives—but the promise of Christ crucified is that He has conquered death and will bring about life through it.
Earthly glory passes, even for Jesus in His earthly life and ministry—but this final act of obedience to the Father secures His heavenly glory:
At the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)
Through Jesus Christ, thus passes the glory of the world—but for those who share in His death and resurrection, it passes into becoming sharers of true glory, the glory of Heaven.
DLA & Offertory Update— Thank you to all who have given for this year's DLA or have mailed in or dropped off Offertory envelopes. Since deposits are recorded sporadically right now, we don't have a current update, but will provide one next week.