By John Martin
Veteran Vatican-watchers say what so endeared Pope John XXIII to his flock was that he seemed to be “everyone’s idea of a grandfather.” Queen Elizabeth II, who turns 90 on Thursday, likewise has the universal quality of a grandmother. Her appearance may have subtly changed over the decades, but those who observe her at close quarters say she remains essentially the same.
On entering their tenth decade most old-age pensioners will have put their feet up to take life easy. It seems Queen Elizabeth does not think herself old. One factor in her enduring fitness is her love of riding horses. On her fourth birthday her grandfather, King George V, gave her a pony and she has loved horses ever since. While she no longer rides to royal parades on horseback, she still enjoys a pony ride on days where her schedule allows.
She possesses an unswerving sense of duty and an uncanny knack of looking unruffled whatever the occasion. When she turned 21 she famously said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” That determination remains undented. Last year she performed 306 official engagements in the United Kingdom and 35 abroad, outdoing all the younger members of the royal household.
On ascending the throne she became supreme governor of the Church of England and head of the Church of Scotland. She has worshiped regularly, having a great affection for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. As the years have rolled on, however, she has become increasingly willing to speak of what faith means to her personally. Her Christmas broadcasts heard all over the world have increasingly included insights about that faith.
In her 2015 Christmas broadcast she exhorted her listeners to follow the example of Christ and said the nativity story was an inspiration to Christians everywhere.
“Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another,” she said. “Although it is not an easy message to follow, we shouldn’t be discouraged; rather, it inspires us to try harder: to be thankful for the people who bring love and happiness into our own lives, and to look for ways of spreading that love to others, whenever and wherever we can.”
Said Catherine Butcher, coauthor of The Servant Queen and the King She Serves: “To have a monarch who talks openly about Jesus in a very relaxed and natural way, we find that a huge encouragement and hope that Christians across the country will take a leaf out of the Queen’s book and learn to talk about Jesus in a natural way with friends, relatives and colleagues, so people can discover more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”