Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Ain’t it funny how time slips away

5th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

November of 1982 saw me travel to the Eternal City to participate in an SVD General Chapter. Such a worldwide meeting of Society of the Divine Word delegates from over 70 countries takes place every six years to review, update and plan for the future. The Institute numbers over 6,000 members, most from developing countries.

Frankly, it is a time when attendees put in brutal hours for a month and a half or so with strategic breaks for catching one’s breath or leaving Nemi near Castel Gondolfo, the summer home of the Pope, to visit Rome and its environs. Although I had studied in Rome 1957-61, this was my first convenient opportunity to visit the fabled Isle of Capri.

I have never had a more forlorn, morose feeling than what I experienced while looking at the palatial summer haunts of the rich and famous, including some very rich churchmen. It made me wonder why the Church had dropped the famous scene from the papal installation where the incoming Pope is reminded of the transient glory of life.

From 1409 to 1963, as the newly-chosen Pope was being carried from the sacristy of St. Peter Basilica in his “sedia gestatoria” (shoulder-borne chair), the procession stopped three times. Each time, a papal master of ceremonies fell to his knees before the Pope, holding a silver or brass reed clasping a tow of smoldering flax.

Every time, as the cloth burned away, the MC would say in a loud, mournful voice, “Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi!” (Holy Father, so passes worldly glory)

The phrase may have been adapted from Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ” that states, “How quickly the glory of the world passes away!”

More than likely, Church authorities stopped the practice because it seemed too pompous and ostentatious. To the contrary, I thought it was cool and actually one of the ceremonial things that hit both the Popes and the faithful directly between the eyes.

It comes as a mild shock to me that the November 1982 General Chapter took place 30 years ago. My first sojourn in Rome passed like a puff of smoke, while this second turn vaporized even more quickly. For me to experience this blip on the radar one more time, I would have to live to be 112 years old! Sic transit gloria mundi!

Despite all the shock of ultra-rapid transit, I have actually enjoyed the trip very much. But that is part of the problem. “Time flies when you’re having fun!” Which means that the more we enjoy our life the more fleeting is its dizzying passage. Time seems to tease us, taunt us by its availability that fades rapidly into unavailability.

What is it that we live for every day, every hour? I hope and pray that you will say your spouse, children, relatives, extended family, friends and even acquaintances. If you say this, you are a fortunate human being blessed with the best ingredients of life.

But woe to you if you say that you live for sucking all the pleasure you can out of life through food, people, or – more depressing – by shoving people aside for the thrill of the chase in casinos or the races, for nonstop entertainment through TV, sports and smut!

Willie Nelson sings, “Ain’t it funny how time slips away,” prompting many to sing, “Let us rejoice while we are young! After a pleasant youth, after a bothersome old age, the earth will claim us!” Hanging over all this is the lightning brevity of our years.

A dismayed church member broached this subject recently, saying in so many words that preoccupation about her decreasing years was stealing her peace of mind and her joy of living. “Awakening in the morning,” I answered, “and making our way jauntily through the day leaves no time for us to be sour, displeased or to feel robbed of our joy.

“Think of where and how we fit like mites in the grand scheme of things. Looking at the slow movement of a clock – regular or digital –how did time ever arrive here from the days of Caesar and Cleopatra, let alone from the 13 billion years of the Big Bang?

“With such a faint understanding of our very being and purpose in life, we had best just settle back and take everything gratefully in stride, enjoying our trip for all it is worth and keeping ourselves oriented to that wonderful experience at the end of our life’s rainbow in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

This article originally published in the September 3, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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