I’m sure that I am not the only one who has noticed that recently the news – except for the ongoing cyber-drama of the Wikileaks and its unconventional (to use a polite word) founder Julian Assange – has been a buzz with all things royal. Whether it was the announcement of what in many ways is THE “main event” of the upcoming year – the pending April 29th nuptials of Prince William of Great Britain to the lovely and decidedly middle-class Kate Middleton , to the consternation expressed by certain well-healed New Yorkers that they would have to recuperate from surgery along with the general population over at New York Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell Medical Center because 86 year old King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had block-booked every single room of the VIP floor of the hospital in order to recover surgery for a slipped disc and blood clots , to the run for the money that the recent film “The King’s Speech” (about the relationship between the stuttering British monarch King George VI & his speech therapist Lionel Logue) is giving the favored film “The Social Network” for this year’s Oscar nomination, to the “hot leadership” advice available in the recently published book “Cleopatra: A Life” shining new light on the life of everyone’s favorite Queen of Egypt . It seems that everywhere, the mention of “things royal” still captures the popular imagination here, even though its been some 234 years since the American colonists won their independence from Prince Williams Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather in 1783.
I have to admit, I certainly share some of this curiosity – a fact I am sure would undoubtedly make both my Irish-Republican and yankee New York ancestors do somersaults in their respective graves. I remember that I too got caught up in all the hoopla surrounding the death and funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales all those years ago, and have to admit that I still get a chill when I listen to the playing of “Hail to the Chief” as a sitting President walks into a room (itself an homage to the ceremonial – almost royal -role our own Presidency plays in our democratic system of governance). And, living after the conclusion of the bloody 20th Century, we are able to realize – perhaps better then our Founding Fathers could have imagined – that while a constitutional government founded upon self-evident and inalienable human and natural rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is preferable to rule by a hereditary monarch, rule by a king or queen is perhaps not the worst form of government there is. After all, in the years following the end of their respective monarchies, the peoples of Russia, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece all found themselves living under dictatorships. In the words of author Jeremy Paxman writing of the phenomenon of rule by royalty: “Better the crown is worn by a dullard than by someone who thinks he has a mission”. In addition, as a Roman Catholic, I of course have tremendous respect for the role that tradition can and must play in society, and appreciate the beauty that ancient practices still possess. All of this adds up to the fact that (I am almost embarrassed to say) you can count me among the folks who drive the medias insatiable drive to report on the comings and goings of the rich, privileged and powerful.
In thinking about it, I realize that this fascination with the lives of royalty has been with me since the time I was a young child; some of this I am sure can be blamed on two sources: the fairytale stories read to me by my mother and grandmother when I was a boy – full of kings, and queens, princes, princesses and knights and the more exotic creatures that populated that magical landscape; as well the concrete circumstances of my own life and upbringing: for you see, I too do indeed have a real King that rules my life – although, truth be told, a decidedly different sort of one. Unlike William, Prince of Wales, whose birth was news around the world, the birth of my King–the Prince of Peace – was shared with only a small circle: the big news at that time was a worldwide census, and the only ones “in the know” were a handful of local shepards and a few foreign astrologers. In fact, so under the radar was His birth that – unlike King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia who had probably a dozen empty rooms at his disposal to recuperate in – His parents had absolutely no place to deliver Him, and so He was born – for all practical purposes – outside in a space fit only for sheltering animals. And although I have never heard a recording of Him, unlike King George VI I am pretty sure that he never stuttered; He was –in fact- quite proficient at public speaking, beginning His first public speech by proclaiming: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” . As far as leadership advice goes, His differs considerably from Cleopatra’s – where Cleopatra traveled on a gilded barge with purple sails amid a cloud of incense attended by Ethiopian slaves, the Prince of Peace was the original practitioner of “servant leadership” before it was hip – admonishing his followers that in His Kingdom “the last shall be first”.
The Advent Season that is upon us is a season of paradox: the bright lights on short, dark days, warm festivities in the frosty weather, lions laying down with lambs, a virgin giving birth, and the King of all kings spending his first night on Earth sleeping not on the finest of linen dressed in a magnificent receiving gown of silk, but instead wrapped in strips of cloth and laying in a bed of straw in a trough from which animals had eaten. I know that this may sound cliché, but during this busy season – as we run from social functions, to shopping, to visiting with our family, friends and neighbors – lets us please not forget the reason for the season, and in anticipation for the birth of the Prince of Peace in less then two weeks, do some things that truly acknowledge this paradox: stop and talk with the homeless man we quickly pass by everyday and ask how their day has been, learn about the religions and cultures of our neighbors and coworkers – and deepen the knowledge of our own, ask a child what they hope for, and an elder about their memories of Christmases long ago – and really, really listen, consider the perspective of a person very different from our self, mend an old argument, pray for peace . In this way, we can be sure to prepare an appropriate warm and inviting place in our hearts where the King of kings can truly rest – both this Christmas and throughout the coming year!
A Blessed Advent to All!