In an age of short attention spans, celebrities fade quickly. Rare is the personality who becomes, in the term wrongly and tiresomely used by writers with limited vocabularies, “iconic.” An ephemeral perception of things makes it hard to understand public significance apart from celebrity-based “popularity” and “approval ratings.”
I mention this because of the continuing celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It is the nature of her office, and confounding to anyone who does not understand the institution, that she did nothing to earn her position other than being born. But that notion is reassuring to all of us who are made heirs of salvation by the gratuitous mercy of Christ the King.
The distinguished Catholic peer, Lord Alton of Liverpool, has calculated that during Elizabeth’s reign, there have been six Popes, and her Catholic subjects have increased from 4.4 to 6.6 million in Britain, and from 25 million to 140 million throughout the Commonwealth. One-third of the primary schools in England are Catholic, and they comprise two-thirds of the most highly rated ones. During the Queen’s reign, the number of Catholic charities in the United Kingdom has grown to 1000. In the Commonwealth countries, the Catholic Church runs 5,246 hospitals, 17,530 dispensaries, 577 leprosy clinics, and 15,208 homes for the elderly.
After long centuries of conflicts between State and Church, this is a remarkable record, but it should not distract from the growing threats to religion from secularists throughout the world, and increasingly so in our own nation. Through it all, Elizabeth II has displayed a constant sense of duty and responsibility, knowing that with the perquisites of her office comes an unrelenting publicity that will not cease until her last breath – far different from public figures who may hope to retire and play golf. The example of growing old gracefully and publicly is another gift of a monarch in contrast to mere celebrities who use the limelight to create an illusion of agelessness. It is said that when a Hollywood starlet, about to be presented to the Queen, worried that the colors of their dresses might clash, she was told that Her Majesty does not notice what others are wearing.
The longest reigning pope was St. Peter, who may have been Bishop of Rome from 29 to 67 AD. Blessed Pope Pius IX reigned nearly 32 years. A monarch, but more than a monarch, and a “servant of the servants” as Vicar of Christ who came not to be served but to serve, each pope knows that however long or short his years may be, or however popular or unpopular he may be, his authority is not conferred by human applause, but by the One who said: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain . . .” (John 15:16).
– Fr. George W. Rutler