In the summer of 2022 the Stockies took an obligatory family selfie outside Windsor Castle. If you would have told us on that day that just 16 months later we would be walking through the gates and being welcomed in by Royalty we would have laughed at the very thought.
Yet, it happened. All dressed up for the day, we walked into the most beautiful castle, rooms and towers and turrets, gardens and flowers. Then it was back inside from one beautiful room to yet another. I was excited as I'd spotted former Manchester United footballer Willie Morgan on elf my favourite players as a kid and got a yarn with him. "I bought your book... I need to read it!"
We were given a little lesson in what was about to happen at which stage I was getting nervous. Eventually I was separated from my girls, who were set up a few feet away, and a few minutes later I was standing before The Princess Royal being presented with an MBE.
For someone like me with no wild dream of such an award or experience it was utterly surreal. How did I end up here? I still feel like the wee boy from Galgorm who never thought he’d make anything of himself. An MBE seems like another universe. Yet, here I was chatting to Princess Anne.
I had one intention in my two minutes with Royalty. As my MBE was given for contributions to peace and reconciliation I was determined to thank the Royal Family for their contribution to our peace building in Ireland. Princess Anne was really quite shy as I mentioned Lord Mountbatten’s death and the acts of forgiveness shown by her mother and King Charles III.
Before I knew it she was talking about the importance of humility. I did say surreal. I am standing by a Princess and she is talking about humility. I agreed and shared how God was particularly humble and how we need to stand in one another’s shoes for reconciliation.
As we were moving room to room in expectation of the award being presented I was comparing the whole thing with our visit to the Vatican 18 months ago when along with Janice and Fr Martin I had the honour of a private audience with Pope Francis. Popes and Royalty? I have said - my life is surreal!
What struck me most in the Pope Francis’s private library was his humility. I would be the first of very many of us who might criticise both Royalty and the Papacy for their ostentatious wealth and perhaps the seeming ivory towers that they live in. Yet, here are two seeking humility from difficult places to be humble.
I remember at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding how struck I was by that reading from Romans 12:16-18; Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
My revelation of God, these past five years particularly, has been of a God who is humble. I say it over and over - we are followers of God of the manger, the donkey, the towel and the cross.
I would suggest that God’s love and humility is the marriage that bears the fruit of grace, humanity’s only hope in this life and the next. The King of Kings is humble, not arrogant or vengeful. What a moment to be talking to a Princess, representing the King, about humility.
It was a moment too for us as a family. I know my parents would have been proud. I sensed Janice, Caitlin and Jasmine were. It was the most wonderful of family days and memories. We were one moment emotional, another overwhelmed but overall just having fun with a day that doesn’t come along too often. It was just joyous. They deserve this as much as me!
Of course as I was about to go in I thought of all of those who had made it possible. Without Fitzroy allowing me to pursue peace and reconciliation work like Rev. Dr Ken Newell OBE (you’re not competitive until you get one!) with Fr Gerry Reynolds and the Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship before me, most particularly my best mate and companion in this work Fr Martin Magill and the 4 Corners Directors and planners. Stockmans. Kernohans. So many people throughout my life who have nudged off me with inspiration or encouragement. Thank you all.
The day before the investiture was my birthday. 10:10 is a great day but even better Bible verse in John 10:10 - “I have come that you might have life in all its fulness.” My life has proven that over and over and here again. Pope Francis and the Princess Royal in just 18 months. Surreal… but thankful I am.