It was both sorrowful and intriguing watching coverage of the late queen of England, Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral, and the events commemorating a well-lived life. I wasn’t glued to the coverage but checked in on the events’ progression.
Faith and Family
The news coverage helped me realize many of my fellow citizens were having difficulty grasping the relationship the people of England had with the queen and why her countrymen so revere her. Many I talked to seemed to believe that the respect came because of the office she held. Heads of state deserve respect because they make decisions to put themselves out there in a particular way, but the admiration for the queen, I believe, was much more profound than simply holding an office.
I am not young, but Queen Elizabeth served as queen for over a decade more than I have been alive. She is widely admired because of her strong and unfailing commitment to duty. I think duty is a behavior widely missing in our culture these days. Queen Elizabeth had a keen sense of duty early on in her life. When Elizabeth was just 21, she was elevated to the queenship. Immediately, Queen Elizabeth proclaimed her commitment. She said, “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.”
She fulfilled her obligation until her death. Although not everyone can articulate why the queen was so cherished, it seems very clear to me that her duty was a trait that made others feel confident, stable, safe, and respected.
Our society has raised generations where many children are being taught that there is nothing that they ought to do. We have led many young people to believe that life is about themselves and that we owe nothing to anyone. We have affirmed that it is OK to be selfish, which is being held up as a healthy concept. However, the original plan for our souls was formed by God. In God’s plan, we are naturally attracted to and admire what is good, beautiful, and right.
Our hearts know that the life lived by the late queen was not perfect, and she made mistakes. However, her duty to her family, her faith, and the country appeared to be perfect. Her exceedingly sacrificial decision to live her life for others wooed our souls, and at her death, the reaction was a natural revering by the world.
The Catholic Church encourages selfless duty because that behavior creates a holy life and a more profound sense of fulfillment. Also, when commitment is adhered to, we all benefit from what another person ought to do. The Catholic Church is one of the last institutions in the world that encourages and expects a life lived sacrificially as a duty for the sake of others.
Our very own Mary, Mother of God, was the greatest and most known servant of duty. Her “fiat,” translated to “let it be done,” was the highest and most noble duty ever proclaimed by a human person. As Catholics, we understand and appreciate Mary’s willingness to commit her life to God. Since we know this, we hold her most dear in our hearts. No other faith reveres Mary greater than we do, and that reverence is directly tied to the duty we know she showed to Christ.
Mary and people like Queen Elizabeth have a unique opportunity to impact the world with their lifelong service to others. However, we have those same opportunities in smaller ways, yet impactful and equally acknowledged by the hearts that observe or benefit from such constant commitment.
I think of the times I have seen our seminarians walk in the procession line for an ordination Mass or a young lady who accepts her habit as she becomes a postulant. Their discernment toward a lifelong commitment to service to God and his people makes your heart skip a beat when you see it. When to-be clergy lay prostrate on the floor before the altar, answering their call to “marry” our heavenly Father or his church, I can’t help but believe this observation moves the soul of the observer. When I see a parish priest consistently and dutifully in the confessional daily before morning Mass, even if no one shows for weeks at a time, that awareness pulls at my heart.
When I see a mother struggling to keep her small child under control in public and the father sternly yet lovingly steps in to de-escalate, that awareness of duty by the father warms my soul. When I learn of an older adult visiting his wife daily at the memory unit, my heart responds with deep admiration. When my adult children come home for a visit and ask what Mass we are going to, my soul is filled with joy.
To a reasonably sane person, our county appears to have several critical matters presently very messed up. We have a lot of people doing what they want and not so much what they ought to do. Duty is the commitment to consistently and faithfully do the right thing. The right thing is not difficult to identify because when we fulfill our duty, others observe the good and beautiful in those actions, and the dutiful person feels satisfied and fulfilled.
Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and all those encounters with duty-filled individuals help us feel like we are on solid ground and moving in a secure, trusted, and holy direction. I think choosing to do what we ought to do can go a long way to getting our society back on the right track, or, better said, moving in a more divine direction.
Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage, Family, and Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.