Demonic temptations to gain “the power and the glory” are rampant in human affairs, gaining such a stronghold in the human heart.
Pope Benedict has given a remarkable example of humility and prudential self-knowledge by resigning from his position as the Supreme Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome. One can locate photographs of his on the internet, as he announced his resignation. But look around him, and look at what he is wearing, and where he sits: on a throne, apparently laced with gold, wearing a lush vestment with gold and ermine. And the throne is in a room with a gorgeous marble floor, and huge paintings hanging around him. And seated around his gilded throne are Cardinals, all dressed in red, with white aprons. What a picture of “the power and the glory,” and how it contrasts with the Pope’s humble face, and his gentle and utterly sincere words of resignation. Inwardly, I have little doubt, Pope Benedict is a man of God, and follows faithfully on the way of Christ. But outwardly, there is no connection between the carpenter from Nazareth and the Pope as a most powerful ruler, surrounded in such obscene wealth. In his book on Jesus, Pope Benedict asked a superb question: “Has the Church misinterpreted Jesus?” Well, look around, and behold the enormous gulf between Jesus the carpenter and the Pope as potentate. One was utterly humble and lived poorly and in simplicity. The Pope, regardless of how humble, is hidden beneath layers of gaudy wealth and most earthly splendor. “Has the Church misinterpreted Jesus?” To quote Jesus from another context, “You have said so.”
The same utter contradiction is seen in American government and politics. We still use the language of democracy, of limited governments, of the rights of the people, but the reality is utterly different: enormously powerful men and women--usually living high on the hog off the fat of the land--making decisions “for the people,” when they themselves have so little contact with everyday, middle or lower class Americans. We are in fact ruled by a power elite drunk on power, and so much so that they have turned “limited government” into a most empty phrase, and in fact have effectively turned us in to a dictatorship--not of the Proletariat, but of the ruling elite. Our central government today is perhaps as unlike the intentions of the Founders for limited government as the Church hierarchy has become removed in lifestyle and appearance from the reality of Jesus of Nazareth.
Hierarchy and central government rulers in the USA have something in common: “the power and the glory.” Men chose power and glory, and signs of the same, rather than virtue, simplicity of life, self-restraint. And so we see decadent and decaying institutions in the Church, and in our own political society. “Sic transit gloria mundi.” “Thus passes the glory of the world.”
I look at the face of Pope Benedict, and I feel strong pity for the man: a scholar, a quiet man, no doubt a humble man, smothered under the burdensome weight of a vast Roman bureaucracy that has dressed itself up in all of the signs of power and glory it could gather over the years. The man, Joseph, now Pope Benedict, has surely served his time in purgatory, and more than deserves to live out his days “in prayer,” as he stated before the world. One must wonder how a man who no doubt wanted to live a life of prayer and study ended up as functionary in a huge institution. Even before resigning, there is indeed a time to say, “No.”
Everyone must resist the allure of the evil one who promises “the power and the glory.”