Priest, Prophet, and King (pt 3 of 3)
I was looking for a particular piece of music on youtube a few weeks ago. I happened to find it in the context of the British royal wedding from a few years back. You remember, Kate and whats-his-name. I remember at the time it filled the news and everyone was talking about it for a while, to the extent that it got annoying and I made a point of ignoring it as completely as possible. And so it’s a little surprising to admit to you that watching the entrance procession… it captured me. The music (Holst) was spectacular. The pageantry and ceremony were tasteful and flawless. There was just beauty and elegance and dignity radiating out of everyone.
And then I thought about my niece Mia and her princess obsession. We really need to find her a twelve-step group or something. Maybe it’s not always literal princesses, because I think that word gets applied to basically any female Disney lead character. But they do tend to be princesses, don’t they?
Here’s what I’m saying: there is something in us that responds to the idea, and to the vision, of royalty. Even after having a revolution against the British Crown, would you say that we Americans really have less royalty in our culture? We traded George III for Elvis, Elizabeth II for Beyonce. And even still, when that British Crown family throws a wedding, look how many of us were fascinated.
It fills our literature. Most of the earliest matter of English literature concerned Arthur Pendragon and his Knights of Camelot. What would The Lord of the Rings be without the plot line of The Return of the King? There was no particular reason that Leia had to be Princess Leia, but they made her one. Lorde realizes that she and her friends will never be royals, but you can still call her Queen Bee, and baby she’ll rule, she’ll rule, she’ll rule… See, we could go on all day.
So what is it about royalty? Is it the desire for money and power? I guess sometimes, but I don’t think my niece is obsessed with princesses because her three-year-old heart profoundly desires to be rich and to order people around. Is it desire for fame and recognition? More so, I think, but not in the sense that we want to be above others looking down on everyone else.
No, what we recognize in royalty, and the reason it enthralls us in so many ways - isn’t that we see ourselves in it… our aspirations, if not our reality? Aren’t we really in love with the idea of beauty and elegance and dignity and nobility? What I saw watching Princess Kate walking down the aisle was a reflection of the dignity of any human being, in a sort of Transfiguration kind of moment… this is who we really are. That’s why every Daddy who calls his little girl ‘princess’ isn’t playing pretend. He feels himself to be speaking the simple and plain truth, and in the most important sense he’s right.
We talked two weeks ago about the Baptismal call to share in Christ’s priesthood, offering prayer and sacrifice not just for ourselves but for the whole world. We talked last week about the Baptismal call to be Prophets, bringing God’s Word to the world. So, now, ladies and gentlemen, the exciting conclusion: you are called in your Baptism to be Kings and Queens.
We’re going to take hold of this concept the same way we did with ‘priest’ and ‘prophet,’ by beginning with the perfect Kingship of Christ. The dignity of humanity could have no greater witness, no conceivably higher honor, than for God to become man. And how did Christ live out His Kingship? The only crown he wore on earth was of thorns. The only scepter he carried was a Cross. And when He wanted to demonstrate royalty in everyday action, He did it by putting a towel around his waist and washing his disciples’ feet. This, He taught them, is what leadership is in My Kingdom. He told Pilate His Kingdom was not of this world, and today we heard Him tell His apostles that His Kingdom was close at hand. We must remember both sides of that: The Kingdom of God is something that is in our midst, close at hand, and not of this world.
You are called to share His Kingship by your Baptism; it is the final part of your anointing. It is a testament to human dignity, and it is a responsibility of leadership.
Human dignity is very much on our minds this week as we saw the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the 42nd March for Life in Washington, D.C. We saw hundreds of thousands of people, average age well under 30, bearing witness that human dignity is not based on size, or dependence, or ability, or development, or on anything at all other than being human. They look at an abortion and realize that that is something you just can’t do to a human life, not any human life, not for any reason. It is absolutely a question of human dignity: what are you worth, and why are you worth it, and when?
Those hundreds of thousands are also a brilliant example of Kingship in action. They came, mostly on buses, from every corner of the nation. They were chanting and singing and full of joy in defiance of the unspeakable sadness that brought them together. Living our kingly, queenly Baptismal calling is about leadership. It’s about getting out there and making things happen. Changing people’s minds, making things better, putting a towel around our waists and getting to work.
That focus on service is a hallmark of the pro-life movement. It’s a favorite lie of many pro-choice leaders that pro-life people only care about the unborn. “You don’t see them lifting a finger to help women in crisis,” they’ll say, “or poor and desperate people after birth.” This is so transparently defiant of reality that it’s an insult to everyone to whom they speak it… they must really think their audience is very, very stupid. Look, if you ever find yourself pregnant and in trouble, financially or otherwise, go ask Planned Parenthood for help, and then go to the pro-life pregnancy resource center, or for that matter come to this little out-of-the-way Catholic parish, and we’ll see.
I hold up to you the Pro-Life movement as a great example of Kingship in action. It is leadership without violence, principled without condemnation, and based entirely on love and service. The participants have nothing to personally gain from winning the fight; they’re already born. Check out a photo of the March, and think of that: every one of these people is there entirely for the sake of others.
Kingship means taking a stand on this, publicly and clearly. We’re sometimes told “let’s set aside this divisive issue,” which means “why don’t you pro-lifers please shut up and accept the status quo, which just happens to be that our side has practically everything we want.” You’ll hear people say “let’s try to find a moderate common ground,” and you think that sounds pretty good, and then you find in practice what they mean is “We’ll keep being okay with abortion, and you can pretend you’re okay with abortion! So we can have our way, and just to be fair, you can have our way too! See? Now we all get along!” No deal. We have to speak up. Those of you who have been personally involved in abortion, don’t let the devil tell you you don’t get to speak. You’re loved, you’re right where you belong, and you have the most powerful voice in the room.
Like I said, a great example of Baptismal anointing in action, but not the only one. In the Kingdom of God, royalty isn’t about Crystal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece, jet planes, islands, or tigers on a gold leash. It’s about tying a towel around your waist and being a servant to somebody, anybody, everybody. We could never list all the ways that Christians can and do make a difference when they put their faith into action. We don’t constantly toot the horn that every day more hungry people are fed, more sick people cared for, and more children educated by the Catholic Church than by any other institution on the planet. That’s something to be grateful for, something to take joy in. It’s not something to get smug about; I’ll bet none of us really feel we couldn’t do more. It’s like Jesus said about the faithful servant: we’ve only done what we were commanded to do, and let’s face it, we haven’t always done even that. But when we resolve to really serve, in whatever way God is calling us, that’s Baptismal Kingship in action.
Baptismal Kingly and Queenly leadership is within the Church, too. Parents live it when you keep the promise you made at your children’s Baptism to be their first teachers in the Faith. You live it when you participate in any of the outreach of the parish: snack packs, food baskets, donating quilts, visiting the sick and shut-ins, helping with a funeral dinner, running a water station at a local 5k race, supporting any of the benefits and causes that come up.
A lot of us in my generation and younger have been told pretty categorically that before Vatican II laypeople didn’t take leadership in the Church. I don’t buy it. My grandparents used to host a Bible Study in their home. Just regular Catholic laypeople, raising eleven children on a farm, and living their Baptismal leadership. I’ve heard that the Legion of Mary, in many parishes, would go door-to-door in their towns to invite people to the Church, evangelize, and reach out to fallen-away Catholics. But the Council absolutely did emphasize that idea of lay leadership as part of our Baptismal calling, saying “more of that, please!” That was fifty years ago. Do we have more of that? Well, I don’t have first-hand experience of that time so I’ll just put it as modestly as I can, and say that it isn’t obvious to me that we do.
I’m secretly hoping - well, it isn’t secret anymore - that some of you might find it laid on your hearts to start up a home Bible Study. Wouldn’t that be great? Seriously, it just takes a few of you to decide to host, make some invitations, pick a book to start with (Gospel of Luke?) and set a time. If you’re nervous about how it will unfold, invite me to the first one and we’ll get the ball rolling. Everyone loves the snack pack program - that’s another great example - and anyone who wants can show up Thursday evenings in the St. Mary’s hall to help put them together. It’s very well funded at this point, but more hands can always help.
How do you live out your royal anointing? I leave you with that question and hope you’ll give it some thought, because this I promise you: you are irreplaceable in the Kingdom of God, and irreplaceable in God’s plan. We've reached the end of our series on our Baptismal anointing, and please take this to heart as the bottom line: your priesthood, your prophet-witness, your leadership is vital. If not you, then who? It’s no good sitting back and waiting for the Church to live up to your expectations. Do you think, as I do, that our parish should be more welcoming and inviting? Then make it so! Do you think the Church could do more to help the poor? Well, you know where somebody lives who needs some help, or who gets lonely. You are priests and prophets, kings and queens, and you are irreplaceable in the Kingdom of God!