Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of Canada - Franciscains du Canada
Ordo Fratrum Minorum
I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
So help me God. I will be especially in need of divine help while driving, as I am very worried about my ability to uphold this oath in situations when I find Canadian drivers to be most peculiar, such as when they change lanes so much too soon, at the mere anticipation of the end of their lane, rather than when it actually ends. However, after 16 years in Canada, I am entirely untroubled by the fact that I am swearing my allegiance to an hereditary monarch (and all her heirs, but especially the cute three-year-old).
On the first of February, 2017, I became a citizen of Canada and her Canadian Majesty’s loyal subject. A good time to reflect on what it means to assume a citizenship. I was born in Germany. My parents are German. My brothers, my sister, my in-laws and my nieces and nephews and everyone to whom I am related is German. Indeed, under the circumstances, I hope that I will be excused for not having given up my German citizenship. It seems like a rather large part of my identity. However, becoming Canadian was a matter of choice, and I am happy that I finally exercised this choice. This country has become part of me, and it seems to me that I have become part of it, and it was up to me to make this official.
Last Sunday evening, while I got ready to celebrate an evening mass during which I would preach about the Beatitudes, the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount, a community of Muslims gathered for their own prayer in Quebec, and six of them were shot and killed. I would not hear of it until I came back home, a few hours after the attack. It took another day for the news to sink in, for the facts to become clear, so that I could see that this attack was not just on one group but also on me, on all of us.
What gives us unity at such times? We have shared principles, shared convictions, shared understanding of the value of life. We also share in the awareness of the incompleteness of all we know and the need to listen to those we do not understand, as they might know something that we have yet to learn. We accept diversity as a necessary condition of our existence. We accept the particularity of our own way of looking at the world while knowing that there are other ways that we do not understand. Unity always exceeds our ability to understand it, as our understanding is limited by our own particular circumstances. The unity of the whole always remains out of our grasp, as we could grasp it only by reducing it to a least common denominator. This, however, is not unity, but merely ignorance of the importance of the differences.
How, then, can we experience unity and live it? It can only be in personal commitment, by persons to a person. As a nation, it is fittingly expressed by the shared personal commitment to one person, who, through her life, represents the unity that we must seek and to which we commit ourselves without abandoning the struggle to reconcile rather than ignore what separates us. For Canadians, this is the Queen. And when she dies, it will be her lawful heir when he becomes our King.
There is something very similar at work in the Roman Catholic Church. Unity in the Church would not last long without the pope. Such a personal representation of unity in one chosen individual is necessary so that unity can be upheld in the flesh, rather than as an idea. The papacy is part of the sacrament of the unity that brings together all believers in and with Christ.
Without the papacy, we would be left alone as individual believers, all seeking community with God through Jesus Christ, but remaining separated from each other in this pursuit. Looking at the history of the Church, the evidence is rather clear that the unity of faith, the ability to articulate faith in a specific way that can be shared by all, could have been upheld in any other way.
Now, in spite of my appreciation of the monarchy, I also remain a loyal citizen of Germany, which is a republic, with an appointed president as the ceremonial head of the nation. An appointed president can be very effective, as long as there is already enough consensus among the political parties to find the right person who can represent this unity with strength and dignity. But if the consensus were to break down, how could it be restored? Building a country on shared values requires that these values are already shared, meaning that the unity is already there. What do we do if a large part of our community objects to values that others consider shared by all? It seems to me that this is precisely the problem of our time.
In the end, while I was touched by the ceremony and happy to become a Canadian, I felt that something was missing. Canadian values did not come from nowhere, and they do not maintain themselves, but they developed within faith and they must remain grounded in faith. This religious dimension of our secular values must be understood, and those who do will see why the Queen is important. And maybe she will become even more important as Canada confronts the challenge of being a nation made up of people of many faiths and cultures. Much will depend on whether we can find shared values and live in unity, so that an attack on one of us remains an attack on all of us. In as much as I will participate in this dialogue, I expect it to be on the basis of my own Christian faith. Faith and reason must be in dialogue if the project of a multicultural society is to succeed so that all can live in justice and peace. Maybe a hereditary monarch could preside over such a dialogue. I would welcome it.
Of course, when it gets too complicated to figure out the specific meaning of unity and how to get there, we have table fellowship to be enjoyed. Some Canadians had lunch with me after the ceremony, and I was grateful for their presence when I become one of them. Here is a picture of us: