Living as we do in an age of democratic values – good in the sense that voices formerly silenced now speak (as with all modern voices, a little too loudly); bad in the sense that the hierarchy of ideas and ideals has been collapsed – we are grown reluctant to consider the virtues of monarchy.
In one sense, of course, we may argue with conviction that Christianity effectively abolished temporal monarchy, given that it is revealed that slave and freeman are equal in the eyes of God. Or as that secret Catholic Shakespeare put it:
worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for
maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table:
that’s the end.
Vile King Claudius pretends pity upon hearing his nephew say so, and Hamlet replies, smiling, playing at madness, that a man “may fish with the worm that hath eat of a/king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm,” which shows us the democracy by which a king may progress “through the guts of a beggar.”
It’s fine that Elizabeth II has been queen of England for more than six decades, and monarchy has its place – and one not dishonored among the other –archies, –ocracies, and –isms we endure on this earth, sterile promontory that it often seems, but one thing seems certain: those whose lives please God are headed for an eternal polity more like a monarchy than a democratic republic.
There’s a reason why we refer to Our Lady as the Queen of Heaven.
More properly, perhaps (at least in earthly terms), she is the Queen Mother of Heaven, since Christ the King is our only true sovereign. Our destiny lies in the Kingdom of God.
And our king is a paradox beyond all paradoxes. As Paul wrote to the Church at Phillppi, this was a king:
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that 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.
I daresay that when the time comes most Americans may have some difficulty bending the knee.
After the Election of 2008, my wife and I had dinner with a woman of the Left (a “red-diaper baby,” in fact), who in discussing the President-Elect insisted on calling him “Barack.” I, who did not vote for the man, bristled at that, but – partly for the sake of my wife and partly out of my own conviction that restraint is to be valued – I said nothing to this woman by way of correction. And it helped to clarify my understanding of the way too many Americans regard all as equal.
That we are all equal before the law (or ought to be) is a given. And we know we are all equally loved and judged by God. But enlisted men salute superior officers, and American citizens address (or ought to) the Commander-in-Chief as “Mr. President.” The idea that somebody at a town-hall meeting would call Mr. Obama “Barack” is as offensive – and as much a violation of decorum – as if in a papal audience the pope were addressed as “Jorge.”
If people imagine heaven as a really swell corner pub, where you shout out, “Yo, Jesus,” to the One behind the bar pulling draughts, they’ll not be in heaven when the drinks are served, although they will certainly be parched. Forever.
Heaven, about which Paul (quoting Is. 64:3) makes clear we can’t even imagine (1Cor. 2:9), is not anybody’s idea of a sweet, small American town, circa 1890. It is joy in the midst of glory. A place where we will be one with our king through worship at the foot of the Throne of God: He the sun, we the rays.
Who knows what song we’ll sing?
1954 was the Year of Mary, at the conclusion of which Pope Pius XII published Ad Caeli Reginam, all about our heavenly Queen. The pope cites scriptural evidence that “clearly signified that she derived a certain eminence and exalted station from the royal dignity of her Son.” The world formerly accepted the notion that earthly kings and queens ruled by divine right, but there are no kings and queens in heaven; just one King and one Queen Mother over all.
And this makes it right and just that in church we kneel. Our perfect posture.
Our most persistent prayers and, perhaps, our most singular goal in this life must be the cultivation of humility, which arises from love, and which places us in the appropriate posture for life in the world to come.
– Written on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
*Image: Madonna of the Lilies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1899 [private collection]