The Two Standards at Manly Beach?

painting of St IgnatiusJust before 3 pm there were lights and sirens and a cavalcade speeding through the streets. Thousands of people had gathered at Manly Beach to see the Duke and Duchesse of Cambridge – and a few Christians were trying to make their way to Good Friday liturgies.

While we commemorated the crucifixion, helicopters and sirens continued around us. Numbers were well down, but perhaps those who lived further than walking distance from the church simply decided to drive in a less congested direction to commemorate Good Friday in peace elsewhere? Nonetheless, it put me in mind of St Ignatius of Loyola’s Mediation on the Two Standards.

In his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius asks us to imagine two competing commanders – Christ and Lucifer – each calling us to come under their standard or banner (Sp Ex 136 – 148). Under whose banner shall we choose to serve?

I’m not suggesting that the Duke and Duchess are the devil incarnate – they seem like a nice young couple.

In this meditation Ignatius refers to “the deadly enemy of our human nature” as Lucifer – the fallen angel, the bearer of false light. The Duke and Duchess undertake community service – they had just visited a hospice that assists terribly ill children and their families before speeding down to the beach – but they are also caught up in a system that asserts the right of some – on the basis of birth or marriage – to riches, honour and power over others. Plenty of people who chose to be in the church rather than at the beach do community service too – but they don’t inherit the right to be our head of state! The light of the community service performed by members of the royal family doesn’t make the premise of their power over others right. The equal God-given dignity of all human persons seems to me to suggest other forms of political and social organization.

I believe that the members of the royal family are entangled in an unjust social structure that actually oppresses them as well as others – but that’s a story for another post.

In the Meditation on the Two Standards, Ignatius describes Lucifer’s modus operandi: to tempt people to covet riches ‘that they may the more easily attain the empty honors of this world, and then come to overweening pride”(Sp Ex 142). Sounds like the cult of celebrity that has such a grip on our culture, doesn’t it? I suspect that the celebrity status of the Duke and Duchess was as big a factor in drawing crowds and in people’s desire to buy the same clothes that the Duchesse happened to wear, as their royal status. Ignatius tells us that this is the opposite of Christ’s way of operating – inviting us to embrace poverty, the contempt of the world, and humility as these lead us to all the other virtues (Sp Ex 146). This path leads to Good Friday – and also Easter Sunday.

I don’t imagine many people stood in the street and wondered if they should go to the beach to see the famous young royals or go to church to commemorate the crucifixion, but we all face moments in life in which we choose under whose standard we will serve. There are moments in which we recognize false light for what it is.

  1. This insight poses a dilemma for women.
    Is Kate’s value only in producing an heir? Are the structural constructs of the Royal Family and the Vatican so entrenched that women are unable to unwind the entrenched disadvantage they bring with them?
    Both these organisations have devout followers who seem unable to see the oppression that they bring to women, and women are major players in it continuing.
    Usually such entrenched disadvantage has to be reconstructed by a radical rethink of a society and its customs.
    How can this come about when vested interests exploit the wonderous event of motherhood, children and in the case of the Vatican – Mary – who was no docile and shrinking woman.
    Only by people continuing to ask the question is there a chance for change.
    We are in need of Women Prophets who raise the issues and demand to be heard.

    1. You raise great questions about structures of sin – and our responsibility to disentangle ourselves from them, and to work towards structures of grace.

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