(RNS) – The outpouring of affection for Queen Elizabeth II has surprised cynics and those who believe self-interest and greed make the world go round. It is incomprehensible to some that millions around the world care about the death of the 96-year-old director of an anachronistic institution.
But people saw something special in Elizabeth – more than the pageantry and splendor of the monarchy, the eye candy of the celebrities who surrounded her. There was more to the queen.
A leader who took duty and responsibility seriously, she fulfilled the wish she did on it 21st birthday: “I declare before you all that my whole life, long or short, will be devoted to your service. …”
Not all monarchs put their people before themselves.
In the Bible’s first book of Samuel, when Israel asks God for a king, he warns them:
He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot…. He will make them do his plowing and his harvest and produce his weapons of war and his chariots. He will use your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards and olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will give the tithe of your crops and your vintage to give them to his officials and his servants. He will take your male and female slaves, as well as your best oxen and donkeys, and use them to do his work. He will also tithe your flocks. As for you, you will become his slaves.
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Too many kings of Israel have shown that God was right. Like many leaders today, they were corrupt and incompetent. Even David and Solomon were imperfect. Israel, however, had its own system of checks and balances: other nations entrusted all spiritual and temporal power to their kings; Israel wisely had kings to rule, priests to lead worship, and prophets to proclaim God’s words of defiance to the mighty.
With all this history, it is not surprising that Jesus hesitated to accept the title of king. Rather, he imitated and quoted the prophets. He only accepted the title of king when he was taken prisoner before Pilate, then he claimed that his kingdom was not of this world. His throne would be the cross.
As a young man, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was captivated by the culture and glamor of the Spanish royal court in the 16e century. He wanted nothing more than to be a knight devoted to the service of the king and a certain court lady he was in love with.
It all ended when he was shot in the leg by a cannonball during a battle in Pamplona in 1521. During his recovery, the only reading materials available were two books: “The Life of Christ” and “The Lives of the Saints”. He was inspired by it to divert his attention from the monarchy to Christ.
Later, when he collected his prayers and meditations in the “Spiritual Exercises”, he asked readers to meditate on the call of an earthly king who invites people to follow him in conquering “all the lands of the infidels”, which all European Christians this time ardently desired. He was a heroic king for whom the first Ignatius would gladly have dedicated his life.
But then he asks the retreatant to meditate on the call of Christ: “My will is to conquer the whole world and all my enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of my Father. Therefore, anyone who wants to join me in this endeavor must be willing to work with me, so that by following me in suffering, they can follow me in glory.
This battle would not use swords and cannons; rather, he would follow in the footsteps of the crucified Christ preaching the Gospel. Rather than seeking worldly glory through force and violence, he would seek humility and justice through self-sacrifice and suffering.
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Ignatius symbolized this radical change in his life by laying down his sword in front of a statue of the Black Madonna at the Abbey of Montserrat. For Ignatius, if Christ is king, then Mary, the teenage mother of Jesus, is also queen.
16eThe language and piety of Ignatius in the last century may seem antiquated, but the response to Elizabeth II shows that there is something of the 16e century still alive in many of us. We always yearn for a powerful leader who demonstrates humility and commitment to duty and service. We want someone we can look up to and look up to. We want someone who is worthy of imitation.
More than any human, this person is Jesus Christ, priest, prophet and king. Or as Ignatius would say, if you think Queen Elizabeth is awesome, take a look at Jesus and Mary. I think Elizabeth would agree.