Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Queen Turns 90

Queen Elizabeth II - for over 60 years Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and 15 other "realms" (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia, and The Bahamas), as well as Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith - turns 90 years old today. As the Choristers of the Westminster Choir School shout when Her Majesty arrives at Westminster, Vivat Regina Elizabetha! (According to their custom, they pronounce those words as if they were English. No ancient, medieval, or modern Latin-speaker would recognize them or understand their meaning, but all English-speakers do.)

In anticipation of this happy occasion and its official celebration in June, the Church of England, of which Queen Elizabeth is Supreme Governor, has composed this simple prayer: Heavenly Father, who hast brought our gracious sovereign Queen Elizabeth to the completion of her ninetieth year, and dost gather her people in celebration of the same: grant that we, rejoicing before thee with thankful hearts, may ever be united in love and service to one another, and her kingdom flourish in prosperity and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Longevity is certainly a great gift. Living to a happy old age and seeing one's children's children to the third and even to the fourth generation (in the time-honored words of the old wedding blessing) is indeed a great gift and blessing - not only for oneself but for the world. Thus, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis quotes Pope Saint John Paul II on how the elderly help us to appreciate “the continuity of the generations”, by their “charism of bridging the gap.” And he quotes the 2015 Synod on how “many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents.” Older generations, Pope Francis reminds us, "help children to realize that history did not begin with them, that they are now part of an age-old pilgrimage and that they need to respect all that came before them. Those who would break all ties with the past will surely find it difficult to build stable relationships and to realize that reality is bigger than they are" (AL 192).

How much more so does all this apply when the one whose length-of-years being celebrated is herself the embodiment of an institution that is all about a nation's ties with its past and a reality much bigger than the present! "The lack of historical memory," Pope Francis has reminded us, "is a serious shortcoming in our society" (AL 193). How widespread is the evidence of that shortcoming all around us today! How admirable in contrast is the institution she has embodied with such grace and dignity for over 60 years, faithful to the promise she made to her peoples in her 21st birthday speech on this day in 1947: "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

Would that more of us made and kept commitments of such seriousness! 

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