My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I have just finished reading a fascinating book called, Crown and Country: The Kings and Queens of England, written by David Starkey. It was given to me last year by Father Chris House when we went to England for the lectures I delivered at the University of Oxford. While it is captivating reading, it is not the type of book you can read in one sitting, not only because it is 500 pages long, but also because it takes a while to digest the details of the many characters, battles, political machinations, rivalries, romances, and royal intrigues.
Indeed, Crown and Country tells the tale of all the kings and queens of England, starting with its roots as the Roman province of Britannia following the first expeditions of Britain by Julius Caesar in 55 B.C. St. Bede the Venerable wrote an early history of the conquest of Britain by the Angles and the Saxons, who came from the Germanic nations of Anglia and Saxony in the middle of the fifth century.
From the early Christian kings, the history of the kings and queens of England recounts the monarchies of the Houses of Goodwin and Wessex; Normandy, Anjou and the Plantagenets; the Houses of York, Lancaster and Tudor; the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, including the present-day House of Windsor.
Intertwined with the history of the English monarchy is its relationship with the church, moving from its close connection to the Catholic Church, to its break with Rome when Henry VIII declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, the persecution and martyrdom of Catholic martyrs such as Ss. Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, its struggles with Protestant Puritanism, to the present day reality of the Church of England.
Covering a span of over two thousand years, Crown and Country can spend only a few pages on even the most significant kings and queens of England, but cumulatively, it tells a story of saints and sinners, virtues and vices, fidelity to the true faith, as well as apostasy, heresy and schism.
In a sense, though, because there is such a large cast of characters being described, what I found most striking is how kings and queens come and go, but life goes on. Indeed, in our own country, we see presidents, governors, senators, mayors, and other leaders come and go.
Now, you may be thinking: yes, that’s true; these earthly rulers come and go, but so do bishops, priests and religious. If that is what you are thinking, you have captured my point perfectly! We all come and go. St. Paul wrote that there are only three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). St. John wrote that “God is love” and that “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him” (1 John 4:8-9).
The only King who will not pass away is Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, and his kingdom will last forever.
Three years ago, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 26, 2017, we concluded our fourth diocesan synod. Representatives from each of our 129 parishes voted overwhelmingly to declare that the “mission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is to build a fervent community of intentional and dedicated missionary disciples of the Risen Lord and steadfast stewards of God’s creation who seek to become saints. Accordingly, the community of Catholic faithful in this Diocese is committed to the discipleship and stewardship way of life as commanded by Christ Our Savior and as revealed by Sacred Scripture and Tradition.”
To further this mission, the synod also declared that the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is committed to implementing the four pillars of discipleship and stewardship, namely: hospitality, prayer, formation, and service.
We will not accomplish this mission overnight, and so we need to keep coming back to the declarations of our fourth diocesan synod to assess the progress we are making and to determine what further steps are needed to implement our mission “to build a fervent community of intentional and dedicated missionary disciples of the Risen Lord and steadfast stewards of God’s creation who seek to become saints.”
The fourth declaration of our fourth diocesan synod declared, “To be a disciple means to accept Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. Disciples are those who make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to themselves. Catholic discipleship refers to a committed approach to living a Christian life within the Catholic Church.”
The reward for doing so, according to Christ our King, is eternal life.
In the very last line of the Apostles’ Creed, we profess our belief in “life everlasting.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that is “fitting that the end of all our desires, namely eternal life, coincides with the words at the end of the Creed, ‘Life everlasting. Amen.’ The first point about eternal life is that man is united with God. ... Next it consists in perfect praise, according to the words of the prophet: Joy and happiness will be found in it, thanksgiving, and words of praise. It also consists in the complete satisfaction of desire, for there the blessed will be given more than they wanted or hoped for. The reason is that in this life no one can fulfill his longing, nor can any creature satisfy man’s desire. Only God satisfies, he infinitely exceeds all other pleasures. That is why man can rest in nothing but God.” As St. Augustine says: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart can find no rest until it rests in you.”
May God give us this grace. Amen.