The Choice for God

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

On Monday morning in Westminster Abbey, London, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II will take place. It will be followed by the burial at Windsor Castle. Following her death on September 8, there has been a global response with messages of condolence flowing from nations and individuals across the world. Such is the level of respect that she holds in the minds and hearts of millions of people. The crowds that have assembled testify to the esteem in which she was held by so many.

The event will be telecast across world media and millions will follow the funeral service led by the Dean of Westminster. People will be able to witness a Christian funeral in the Anglican rite, a testimony to the faith of Queen Elizabeth and a witness to the world of the Christian belief in life eternal.

The death of the Queen has occasioned much commentary on her life. The reflections by world leaders, religious leaders and by social commentators have all acknowledged the extraordinary quality of her character. Living as monarch through 70 years of great social change, the Queen remained a calm and steadfast rock of goodness, kindness and human civility.

The Queen was a woman of faith, and this faith, she said, was the foundation of her life. Back in her 1994 Christmas Message, Queen Elizabeth made clear the depth of her faith when she said: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace … is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.”

We all have been moved by her passing and have had the opportunity to reflect on the sterling qualities of her character. In some ways she carries qualities of character that would appear to belong more to a bygone era, qualities that are no longer as prized and embraced in our contemporary culture. Her sense of duty, for instance: seeing her life as Queen as essentially one of service to her subjects, a service that she maintained right to the end. Her natural reserve showed a balance and restraint so often lacking in brash modern society. Her interest in people, her warmth in meeting people from diverse backgrounds, her smile, all reveal a woman who reached out, often, no doubt, denying her own personal interests.

Carl Trueman is an academic, a theologian, originally from England now living and lecturing in America. He has recently written a book entitled, “Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self”. In this book he outlines a profound shift that has taken place in western society in terms of the way people see and understand themselves.

His thought could be summarised in these words of his, “The modern self assumes the authority of inner feelings and sees authenticity as defined by the ability to give social expression to the same”. In other words, he says that people today tend to define by their feelings and believe that they have a right to live by them and, in doing this, expect to be accepted by everyone else.

I believe Trueman has grasped the way that many in modern society see things. This view is quite pervasive in modern society to the extent that inner feelings take precedence even over external realities. This is no more clearly seen that in the transgender movement.

The character of Queen Elizabeth stands in stark contrast to this now pervasive understanding of the nature of the self, and hence the way human life is lived. In contrast to this view the Queen directed her life outwardly towards others, to the wellbeing of others, attentive always to the common good. What Trueman describes as the ‘Modern Self’ is the opposite, it is inward looking, centred on realising personal happiness, placing one’s own needs first.

The Queen’s life reflects more faithfully the Christian understanding of how to be human. Jesus spoke of the need to lose one’s life in order to find it. This is the great paradox to human life. It is in giving that we receive, as the Peace Prayer of St Francis states. This is the true way to human happiness, and, indeed, final beatitude.  

As we reflect on the qualities of the life and character of Queen Elizabeth, we do so on this Sunday when we have listened to the Lord’s teaching on the use of material things. He teaches that we need to make use of money (though, describing it as a ‘tainted thing’), but warns of the danger of becoming a slave to money and the amassing of material things. He reminds us that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot be the slave of two masters – God and money. We must choose: it is one or the other. It cannot be both.

This reminds us that there is a choice to be made by each of us. We either choose God and the things of God or choose the world and the things of the world. We either live for ourselves or give over our lives to God, placing them under his guidance. We live in a social environment that promotes the former. Thus, as a Christian, we must choose to stand aside from the path that our culture is taking and not pursue the cult of personal happiness favoured by the rise of the Modern Self.

The Christian understands that true happiness is found in losing oneself, in giving oneself, in denying oneself. This is the message of Christ, revealed for instance in the Beatitudes, and it is, in the end, the only way to find true happiness.

And for the Queen whose life reflected this truth, we say, “May she rest in peace”.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Sunday, 18 September 2022.

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