Wednesday 10 May 2023

Crowns come in different sizes

One could not have missed the many images of crowns in the past week. On posters and flags, on shop advertisements and on the official emblem of the coronation of His Majesty the King. The whole world, it seems, was caught up in amazement at that moment when St Edward’s crown was placed on the King’s head, the only time it is ever worn, to be replaced by the Imperial State Crown, impressive in its size and its jewels. One could not help but feel a certain sympathy with them — perhaps especially Her Majesty the Queen — as they walked around gingerly with several pounds’ weight of crown on their heads, lest they take a tumble. A crown is a symbol not only of a regal inheritance, but of a sacred anointing and the leadership of a nation. It also shows that one is set apart from the rest, is chosen, is consecrated.

Crowns are a familiar sight even in church. Our Lady’s statue is crowned, there are crowns above the cabinets in the Relic Chapel and they are even to be found, accompanied by palm branches, on the reliquaries placed on the High Altar on feast days. These crowns too stand for those set apart, who are chosen to bear the ultimate witness to the greatest truth.

On Friday we keep the feast of Saints Nereus and Achilleus. Baptised by St Peter himself, these two soldiers having obeyed the cruel orders of their emperor out of fear alone, it is said, came quite suddenly to faith in Christ and in doing so were liberated. They were freed from their obedience to a tyrant to embrace obedience to Christ and in so doing were called to shed their blood in witness to their faith. Theirs is the story of so many brave Christians who saw eternal life as the greatest prize against which everything the world has to offer pales in comparison. St Philip had a great devotion to the saints. Their relics are enshrined at the Roman Oratory and the Venerable Cardinal Baronius was the Cardinal Priest of their ancient church, often frequented by St Philip.

St Philip had a marvellous devotion to the saints and their relics. In his last years we are told he had the lives of the saints read to him daily and took great care to preserve the relics of the saints with devotion at the Vallicella. He saw in the lives of the saints a guide for the rest of us so that where they have gone we might follow.

Earthly crowns fall on the heads of very few men. The crowns on our relic cabinets, on the altar reliquaries and paintings in the church are a reminder to us that there is a lasting crown in store for all of us, a crown of glory that will never fade and is given us by the Lord. It may not be that we have to win it by shedding our blood like Nereus and Achilleus, but rather through the long and arduous path of growing in holiness day by day. We are chosen and set apart, we are consecrated by our baptism to win the crown that is fitted for us. In the eyes of the world it rarely glitters, but it is more lasting than anything the world can dream up. And go for it we must.

And we pray for our King Charles, that the golden crown set on his head a few days ago may always remind him of that crown of glory that awaits him, please God, after a life of service and virtue. May he be helped in seeking that crown by our prayers.

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