As a part of the festivities surrounding the inauguration, the Netherlands will also present itself in all its aspects to the King, with the title “Majesty, this is your country”. Perhaps this is a good occasion to also look at our country from a religious perspective.
“Majesty, this is also your country”: for many, God has disappeared behind the horizon of their lives. What remains of a religious Netherlands has become very multifaceted. In addition to the major Christian churches, and the traditionally large Jewish presence, new religions have arrived: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, all sorts of sectarian groups and a lot of New Age spirituality. What we have long refused to really acknowledge is that the variety of our people has become greater than ever, not just in race or culture, but also in faith and confession, and therefore also in norms and values. Never before has there been so much difference in thought about the important questions of life and death, God and man, marriage and sexuality. How do we deal with that? How do we maintain peace and solidarity?
Here I see an essential challenge for our time. Here the new king will also have to find his way. Queen Beatrix has always duly realised this. In almost all her speeches, I have noticed, the term tolerance plays a central part. And tolerance is indeed the royal way. In a sense religious tolerance is a Dutch invention. A small country where many have sought their refuge was faced with the choice between a permanent state of war, or to tolerate that the other thinks and lives differently, even if that is repugnant to oneself. There were certainly pragmatic reasons, but still, Dutch tolerance – I think this is important to say – was never pure indifference, as if it doesn’t matter anyway. No, the Dutch are naturally principled, and they still are. From the atheist on principle to the Bible belt, we still have it all. Here, tolerance is the royal way… but I will also say: it sadly is not enough anymore.
Extremist groups who consider those who think differently purely as enemies, are nowhere accountable on tolerance. Freedom of religion ends there. No one can invoke freedom of religion or conviction when he denies that same freedom on principle to others.
But in another sense as well does tolerance encounter its limits in our time. Sometimes differences seem to become so great that one person’s freedom collides with what someone else consider holy and untouchable. For Christians these are life, the dignity of man and the honour of God. On principle we recognise everyone’s right on their conviction, also when that includes atheism, but national unity does demand, also from them, a respectful relation to what all faithful and religions consider to be holy.
In addition to tolerance our time need something more essential as well, in my opinion. In its deepest sense, tolerance really tells us what we do not want: we do not want to attack each other over differences in faith and conviction, but it doesn’t say what we do want. What do we, as a people, as a nation, stand for? What are we prepared to fight and perhaps even to give our lives for? What are our ideals?
A people need ideals, young people especially need ideals, ideals without footnotes for themselves and the world. There lies their strength, and that strength is what our country needs. A large part of the European youth being without work and perspective is a threat to the future of this continent and our country.
I wish for our royal couple to find ways to also play in this aspect an encouraging role. Our people can pride itself in a great reserve of generosity. We see this in many events, and it always moves me. We should tap this reserve more often. It both lifts solidarity and unity out of the sphere of feeling and emotion – even if there is nothing wrong with immersing oneself in the orange feeling – and carries it to a next level. But having said this, I once again add: that too is not yet enough.
And now I expressly speak as a Christian and as a bishop: the world, all the work of man needs to be animated by God’s Spirit. You may not know it, but exactly that is the deeper symbolism of the globus cruciger. Next to the crown and sceptre it is part of the signs of kingship. At the inauguration it will be in front of the new king. A smaller version is placed here on the altar. The globe, divided into four parts, symbolises earthly reality. The four corners, the four elements, the four seasons… in Scripture: the four rivers in the garden of Eden, the four angels, the four evangelists… but also the four cardinal virtues: temperance, prudence, courage, justice. The cross is planted in the globe.
The cross of Christ broke the power of the Evil One and freed the power of the Spirit. The three arms of the cross point towards the three supernatural virtues: faith, hope and love. Or, larger: truth, justice, solidarity. Four is the number of the earth, three the number of God. Together they add up to the creation as God intended it. Traditionally, the king is the keeper of this divine order. Hence the globus cruciger.
The sign of the cross essentially expresses this. We touch our body in four place, and utter the three names of God while doing so. “As it is, these remain,” St. Paul wrote, “faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.”
Pope John Paul II once told the youth: “Ask the Holy Spirit, clothe yourself in His strength… be builders of a new world based on truth, justice and solidarity, built on love”. Without God it isn’t possible, I say with him. We can’t make faith hope and love by ourselves. There is no therapy or pill for that. The flow from mercy, come directly from God. Every person needs them, society and even economy need them, our royal couple needs them. The Lord will give them when we ask for them, when we try to furnish our lives and society according to the commandments He placed within creation, and written in the hearts of men.
Faith, hope and love are gifts from God which carry a great promise within them. Faith in God is also faith in the grandeur and dignity of man. You are not a speck of dust in the universe, but a child of God. You have a Father. You were born out of eternal love and are carried and saved through that love. You were created for eternity. People should hear that again.
Without looking any further than the limits of time and earth, man withers away. Man can only transcend himself, find the strength to have ideals beyond money, possessions or comfort, to confront what is still dark in life and to change what needs changing, and to go the way to God’s kingdom, which is promised and will be given, through hope in the future and the perspective of eternity.
What is shown in ancient symbolism here, also contains a duty for us in our time, for the king and for everyone who believes in God. Of course, the king is there for our entire people, for those who believe, those who believe differently, and for those who do not believe.
But that does not mean that a king, as a human being himself, should be philosophically neutral. That is not possible. He too has the right to a conviction and spiritual roots, and may share those with respect for other. Queen Beatrix did so. She performed her duty with great commitment, and has known joy, but also deep sorrow. We pray the good Lord for blessings over the years that will be given her.
The new king, Willem Alexander, and Queen Máxima, are at the start. They have all the gifts of mind and heart to be signs of unity, to represent and to encourage. May the Lord animate their natural gifts with His Holy Spirit, so that they may be a blessing for our people.