Prince Harry has been in the news again.
In the past, the media were not slow to bring his news of strip-poker games in Las Vegas, or the latest twist in his romantic entanglements. Now column inches are devoted to revealing reflections on his life and duty. Whether his grandmother is pleased about his ‘heart on the sleeve’ confessions is another matter. but she will certainly be pleased about his approach to duty.
In a recent interview he disclosed, ‘is there any one of the Royal Family who wants to be King or Queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time’. I can imagine grandmother nodding in approval. We tend to be critical of those who put personal considerations before the claims of duty, most famously The Queen’s own abdicating uncle David, Edward VIII. Likewise, we are sceptical about those who seemingly once desired to hold high office in order to serve the common good, but later seem intent only in improving their already-healthy bank balance.
At the beginning of each Parliament a special ritual is enacted. The person chosen as Speaker of the House of Commons is symbolically, and reluctantly, dragged to the Speaker’s chair. The custom harks back to a time when being Speaker carried real dangers, most notably from the first King Charles. The ritual underlines that Speaker is undertaking his task at the demand of others, and not out of personal ambition.
Anselm was a priest who lived a millenium ago. Educated at Bec in Normandy, he made that monastery a centre of European scholarship, before being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. On his appointment, he remarked that he would rather have been cast on a stack of faggots than set on the archepiscopal throne. He headed his letters, ‘Brother Anselm, monk of Bec by choice, Archbishop of Canterbury by violence.’
Jesus Christ regarded his mission as something thrust upon him. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews observed; ‘No-one takes this honour upon himself; he must be called by God...so Christ did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high-priest.’(Hebrews 4,5). Servanthood and sacrifice were the paths laid out for him. ‘I came’ he said, ‘not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’(John 6;38). Someone with that devotion to duty, however painful it might be, is worthy of our trust.