There’s been an image in my mind ever since Mass today that I can’t seem to shake. I was distracted by it for a substantial part of the Liturgy of the Word and I came home almost immediately to write about it.
A little girl–probably only 6 or 7–squirming in her pew a few rows ahead of me, her round head adorned with thick blond locks and…a tiara.
It wasn’t one of those brittle, plastic tiaras with The Little Mermaid’s face plastered onto the beads. It was an actual tiara–intricate design, shining sterling sliver, and covered in brilliant cubic zirconia–like the kind they sell at Claire’s or The Icing.
At first I was startled that she had worn it to Mass. Don’t parents check for that kind of thing before loading kids in the car? But that thought was almost immediately overwhelmed by a much more significant, permanent thought: How stunning.
And it was stunning in so many ways.
Of course, there was the obvious physical beauty of seeing the feminine adorned. It struck me, however, that this crown really enhanced her beauty. We are all painfully aware that even the tiniest, most wide-eyed members of our society are being sexualized today. Even the products being sold for them–tops, skirts, and kiddie swimsuits–are intentionally reminiscent of promiscuous female celebrities and models in less-than-virtuous standing. But this tiara on this little girl–no matter what the manufacturer may have intended it for–simply evoked awe. It so perfectly complimented her golden hair and tiny shape that one could only look upon this child with marvel and wonder at this incredible little creation.
But the image spoke of much more than that. This elegant crown also betrayed–in little sparkles and glimmers–the dreams and fearless image she held of herself. I am a princess. The jewels were most likely from her Halloween costume a few nights before when–for an entire evening–she got to dress the part of her real identity. And the fact that she hadn’t taken it off since then only further testified to her desire to hold on to–and even show the world who–she really is.
But it’s not the princess part of “princess” that captures the imaginations of so many girls (and admittedly, adults). Heck, if walruses were treated the way princess are, little ladies all over the world would spend their Halloweens sporting enormous tusks and begging mommy to read the walrus story just one more time. Instead, what reaches to the core of girls worldwide and inspires their dreams and identities is the desire to be cherished.
The reality is that we are made to be cherished, to be loved, and to cherish and love in return. No little girl–even when she’s 97 years young–outgrows that dream.
It does seem, however, that no amount of cherishing and loving in this world is enough. It never seems to totally satisfy. We long for a kind of mutual love and mutual cherishing that is far beyond what this world can offer. It is here, in a gentle whisper bursting with promise and celebration, that C.S. Lewis offers his strikingly simple explanation: “We were made for another world.”
And it is right there in Mass–where that little girl so boldly donned that tiara–that we get a foretaste of that other world. It is there, as my dear friend Brian Butler once said, that “Heaven kisses Earth” and the salvation of the world is again consummated–not separately from but just as profoundly–as the first time.
It is there that each member of the Church approaches Christ as his princess and his bride. For together–male and female–we make up the Church, the Bride of Christ. (This is part of the reason women specifically wear mantillas; It is a reminder of the wedding veil, sacred beauty, and utter self-gift.)
(Note: The idea of all communicants–men included–as Bride is about us belonging to the Church, traditionally identified using female pronouns. It is not a statement about gender, power, or repression. Instead, as Scott Hahn so clearly put it,
“God created the human forms of physical gender and sexuality to be created reflections of the purely immaterial relations unique to each member of the Trinity. In the relations of the human family, the [relationship between God & Godself, and God & his Church are] reflected more fullly and truly than anywhere else in the natural order. In other words, the analogy of bridal motherhood is relational and familial, not physical or sexual (much less political).” (Italic emphasis and parenthetical aside, Hahn’s. Bold emphasis, mine.)
Essentially, since God can only be described by way of analogy, the complimentary relationship between spouses is the best and closest analogy to describe the relationship between Christ and his Church. It is not intended to–and in fact, does NOT–have political or sexual implications, only relational ones.)
Unfortunately, however, the idea of being princess is so often shunned in today’s adult culture due to a misconception that to be a princess is to be utterly helpless and passive. Such a misconception is understandable given that we’re broken humans and too often princesses have turned out that way, both in real life and in fairy tales. But “princesshood,” if you will, is really about faithful and selfless servitude.
The king’s job is to be in utter service to his subjects, expending himself to provide order, justice, prosperity and safety–even sacrificing his very life in battle. Jesus himself helped correct our skewed perception of royalty by framing kingship as shepherdhood. As the king’s daughter and rising successor, her job is of the same gravity: utter pouring out of herself in the ways that her incredible feminine genius is best suited for.
And it is exactly for these reasons that the king is so highly exalted; We see this in Christ himself. And so we, as true princesses, make the perfect spouse for the servant who laid down his life for the entire world.
So sitting there in Mass, with all of these thoughts flashing through my mind, there seemed nothing more perfect than the child’s tiny, adorned figure silhouetted against the tabernacle of her ultimate Spouse.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (ed. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001) 136-137.
Scott Hahn, First Comes Love, (ed. New York: Doubleday, 2002) 166.