From Celebration to Lenten Reality

Sic transit gloria mundi.

“So passes the glamour of the world…”

It’s not about prestige, power, pomp, popularity… It’s about God’s love, grace, mercy, and our response of love, faith, and humble service.

“So passes the glamour of the world.”

They used to have a cantor chant that refrain in front of the Pope, to remind him that all of this pomp is passing, that one’s real values had to be in heaven.

I just returned Tuesday, Mardi Gras, from the City of St. Peter and Paul, The Eternal City of Rome, where I experienced the joy, honor, and, yes, the “pomp” of being named a cardinal.

The week was happier yet because of the gracious presence of so many family and friends, many from our beloved archdiocese.

And early the next morning, Ash Wednesday, yesterday, I heard those sobering words, “Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Talk about cold water! Talk about a quick return to reality!

As grateful and honored as I am for the privilege of being made a cardinal, this joy too is passing.

As noble and as beautiful as this earthly life, this creation, is, this too is but fading.

In the end, it’s all about God, His love, His grace, His mercy, and our humble response of faith, love, and service.

When I arrived in Rome 10 days ago, to stay at the North American College guestroom for cardinals, I went right away to hang my new robes in the closet.

But there was not much space, as other prelates had their red robes in storage already there for their own trips to Rome.

So, I thought, I’ll have to remove a few of them and put them somewhere else until I depart from Rome, so I could make some room for my own new robes.

As I took down two cardinatial robes belonging to somebody else, I noticed the name on both of them: Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

A boy from Brooklyn, who became a cardinal and the Archbishop of Philadelphia…and died three weeks ago…

Dolan, I thought, someday, sooner or later, God only knows, some future cardinal, bursting with pride, gratitude, and joy, will remove these two now sparkling new red robes of mine to make room for his.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

“So fades the glamour of the world.”

“Remember, Timothy, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

I remember once, not long ago, visiting a very wealthy, successful, prominent, powerful man who, in his early 60s, was diagnosed with rapidly advancing, incurable cancer. There he was dying in hospice.

“But,” he whispers to me, “I’ve never been more in love with my wife or closer to my kids; I’ve never prayed better or received Holy Communion more often; I’ve reconciled with old enemies and given away a lot of my cash to charity. I’ve told God ‘I’m sorry’ in a good confession. I’m at peace. I’ve got all that matters…”

Then he added, “I should have realized I was dying years ago!”

It’s Lent, our annual hospice.