Recently, I re-stumbled upon a peculiar YouTube video, depicting the beginning of the funeral of Otto von Habsburg, the former head of the famous House of Habsburg. He lived through both World Wars and vigorously opposed Nazism and Communism. His list of accomplishments is long, and as a devoted (and perhaps overzealous) Catholic, he grabbed anti-Catholic Ian Paisley’s “John Paul II Antichrist” banner, punched him in the face, and helped escort him out of the European Parliament during the saint’s speech there.
But what exactly makes this particular video interesting?
It is in German, but the basic action goes as follows. A herald knocks on the church’s door and requests entrance. A friar within responds, “who seeks entrance?” The herald responds with a very lengthy list of Otto’s noble titles. The priest simply answers: “we do not know him.” Next, the man knocks again, and then reads a list of the Archduke’s more contemporary titles, including his work as a member of the European Parliament. Once again, the friar simply says “we do not know him.” Finally, the herald knocks once more and responds to the priest’s question: “Otto, a mortal, sinful man.”
The friar’s response is meek and beautiful: “Come in.”
For all our belief in hierarchies, both earthly and celestial, for all our love of material glorification of the divine, we must always remember not only our mortality but also our equality in the eyes of God This beautiful ritual reminds us that pride and secular accomplishment mean little in the face of divine love, divine mercy and justice. All Catholics would do well to learn from Otto’s funeral, to remember that we are all, to paraphrase the herald, sinful, mortal men.
And, especially in light of recent political events, when it is easy to act uncharitably, Otto’s life (and death) serve as reminders that charity unites each and every one of us, even in disagreement.