During World War II, Americans saw Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands (grandmother of the present Queen Beatrix) as a heroine because she relentlessly stressed the dignity of the Dutch people when Germany overran and occupied her country.
In fact, she was the first woman ever to be invited to address a joint session of the U. S. Congress.
Wilhelmina came to the throne in 1888 as a young girl, succeeding her father, King William III. At the time, Holland possessed the Netherlands East Indies, that vast collection of islands now known as independent Indonesia, and was regarded as a major power. It also was a vigorous democracy, with considerable give and take.
Since the new queen was too young to reign, her mother, King William's widow, Queen Emma, became regent. Emma was a young woman. She had been reared in the privileged and protected world of a princess. More than a few wondered if she had the mettle to oversee a government and society as thriving and sophisticated as that of The Netherlands.
When her regency ended after Wilhelmina came of age, Queen Emma was regarded as having been a leader of considerable ability. Indeed, she was very wise. Wanting Wilhelmina to grow up as much as possible in more normal conditions, Emma refused to allow the little queen many opportunities to appear in public.
One day, however, on an important Dutch holiday, when a great crowd gathered before the palace in Amsterdam calling for Wilhelmina, Emma complied.
When the regent led the little girl onto the palace balcony, the crowd erupted into cheers. They sang patriotic songs. Wilhelmina was thrilled.
"Mommy," Wilhelmina asked, "since I am the queen, do all these people belong to me?"
"No, dear," Emma gently replied, "you belong to them."
Queen Wilhelmina said that she never forgot what her mother said that day. From then forward, Wilhelmina devoted herself to the well-being of the Dutch people. She belonged to them.
On the last Sunday of November, the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King. It will be a joyful conclusion to the Church's year. The new year will begin Dec. 2, the first Sunday of Advent. It also will be for the Church a teaching moment.
The feast of Christ the King is not that old. Pope Pius XI established it less than 90 years ago. It came out of the European experience. At the time, dictatorships, most notably in Germany and Italy, were in power, and they crushed anyone who disagreed with them. Dictators made themselves centers of personality cults. God, the cornerstone of human rights, was put in the background.
Most European states then were monarchies. In each, the ideal was exactly what Queen Emma in Holland had once impressed upon her daughter. Monarchs belong to their people, whose well-being is the monarch's first concern.
So, Pope Pius XI began celebrating Christ the King. It fit especially in a time when dictators, with no thought of God or of basic human dignity, hardly had human dignity first in mind.
Time has past, but the lesson still applies. God is the creator and is supremely wise. Foolishly, we often judge ourselves to be wiser. Even then, however, God mercifully forgives and restores us, if we admit our errors and ask forgiveness. God loves us so much that he gave us Jesus. Jesus gave everything, even human life, for our salvation.
Christ is God, the one source of eternal life and true peace, loving us with a love that we cannot imagine, is always beside us, if we choose to be beside him, strengthening us, giving us insight and consoling us. What a thought when we struggle or are anxious. What a comfort when we realize our own limit-ations. Christ the King belongs to us.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.