It’s been a topsy-turvy year, where up has seemed like down, and everything that once made sense has been thown into question. I won’t even begin to count the ways. Instead, I’d like to focus on one of the funny surprises that has struck me looking back. I never thought that I’d say it, but quite frankly, I’m captivated by the Pope and the British Monarchy. Even more surprising, I don’t think I’m alone here!
Who would’ve thought that at this point in the 21st century we would be looking so favorably at the church and the monarchy? It almost seems regressive, if you look at it on the surface, a callback to the Age of Faith, what was once unfavorably known as the Dark Ages. But here’s where it gets interesting. It turns out that the Pope and the British Monarchy signify a seismic shift in how institutions and our culture can co-evolve. Both are reclaiming their essential value while creatively adapting to the wider human needs of the society they serve.
Let me be more specific. Pope Francis has reenergized and humanized the Catholic Church to speak to Christ’s larger message of compassion, inclusion, and service. He has done so by ushering in the “Year of Mercy”, focusing on the how forgiveness and love are the starting point for empathic engagement and open dialogue. In so doing, he has reconnected to those who are marginalized and seemingly forgotten (the poor, refugees, people in developing countries, etc.) including one of the most neglecteed of entities these days— the environment itself! (Reese, 2017). By demonstrating the primacy of love, the Pope has given greater voice to the importance of embracing imperfection while simultaneously aspiring to divinity; his is not a preaching of mere rules and dogma, but rather an acknowledgement of the complexities and contradictions of living with faith and within the realm of choice (Reese, 2017) . It is this balancing of tensions, this capacity not to fall into one-sided traps and polarizing stances that makes the Pope so extraordinary, and, paradoxically, so ahead of his time!
Francis has also spoken eloquently to the technological dillemas facing us right now, calling for people to monitor how much they rely on their cell phones, and how crucial it is to be to be tuned in to the the beauty and depth of true presence. Most importantly, the Pope models his humanity in such an authentic and soft-spoken way, illustrating that true power comes when it is offered humbly in service of something higher.
Presiding over a church that was so recently racked by scandal, hypocrisy, and colllusion, Francis has breathed new life into an institution that was plagued by profound cynicism and disillusionment. He has shown an exemplary capacity to be open to new ways of thinking about timely contemporary issues, allowing the space to question the status quo and allow new ideas to emerge (Reese, 2017). By doing this, the Pope is modeling the creative and empathic capacity necessary for such a complex and multifacted world. He recognizes that the challenges of being human in the 21st century are vast, and that the Church itself and his leadership can encompasss figuring this out, both by holding on to foundational principles, at the same time, as being flexible and creative in its approach.
The recent engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle also highlights something miraculous and reinvigorating, reestablishing the relevance of the monarchy and its capacity to ennoble our culture. Again, who would have thought that an institution that was centuries old could be so modern and so relevant today? In fact, if I bet you a few years ago that right now, these two royals would be so important, you’d probably think I was a fool.
The most beautiful and timely thing about the royal union is that it transmits the message that it is not pedigree alone that determines nobility but rather a dedication to serving humanity. Both the Prince and his fiancée see the ultimate value of transcending the self to serve those less fortunate and go outside of their comfortable situations to do so through humanitarian work and philanthropy. This is how they both met and bonded, and this is what they both bring together not only for each other, but also as a cultural value to which others can aspire. Before they knew each other, not surprisingly, it was clear that both valued giving back, with Prince Harry serving in the military, and Markle having a reputation for not only charity work, but also standing up for those who were bullied and mistreated. So, like the Pope, the royal couple and the monarchy which it represents, are speaking to a capacity to transcend ego to serve something greater, of being responsible stewards of power who are finding new ways of ennobling us all.
Another unexpected and paradoxically progressive feature of today’s British monarchy is that like the Pope, they are embracing, affirming, and championing inclusion. It is not too long ago that a British monarch would have to abdicate the throne in order to marry a divorcee nonetheless an American. And it would have been almost unheard of for a British monarch of any other time to marry a biracial woman. It is a wonderful sign of the times that this is so welcome, and also a real emblem of nobility that the British Monarchy has risen to the occasion to lead the way in demonstrating the royalty in all races, and that love and humanity trump all else.
Who knows what next year will bring in terms of unexpected heroes and trailblazers? This year I’m putting my money on this dynamic duo!
Michael Alcee, Ph.D is a psychologist practicing in Tarrytown, NY who is interested in exploring how culture reflects and illuminates our collective psyche. For more information on his work, check out his LinkedIn page or his website at drmichaelalcee.com.
Reese, Thomas (2017, March 9). Five Great Achievements of Pope Francis’ First Four Years. National Catholic Reporter.