Remembrance Sunday 2018
Today, in common with many people throughout our land we are remembering and giving thanks for those who lost their lives during the two world wars of the last century. This year is particularly poignant as we commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.
My grandfather was wounded in the battle of the Somme, my father was the captain of a ship in the second world war, and my godfather, who attended St. Joseph’s Academy here in Blackheath was a pilot and died in 1943. I am sure that many of you have similar stories in your families. But we have been a fortunate generation. In Western Europe we have enjoyed a time of peace and tranquillity – we have lived through the reconstruction after the Holocaust, the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communist rule. The wars of the last century are now becoming history rather than recent events. And today we remember those who fought to bring about this peace, sometimes as the cost of their own lives. And part of our belief is that it is more than just a commemoration of past events – we believe in the communion of saints, which means that we pray for those who have died – so that they may receive forgiveness for any faults that they may have committed during their lives – and that they will be welcomed into the happiness of eternal life. To quote the words of Thomas More – “that we may meet merrily in heaven”.
Books on recent history record the efforts of those who worked so hard to achieve what was to become the European Union. They saw that it was essential for the countries of Europe to work together to avoid the rivalries which had led to the conflicts. I do not intend to enter into a political debate, but certainly there are parts of Europe where peace and security seem more fragile than a few years ago. The second Vatican Council, in its declaration on ‘The Church in the Modern world’, reminded us that Peace is not merely the absence of war. It suggests that peace is the fruit of the harmony built into human society by the divine founder, and is brought about as women and men strive to attain an even more perfect justice. It goes on to say that a firm determination to respect the dignity of others as well as a deliberate practice of fraternal love are essential if peace is to be achieved. And it explains that this is not something that can be left to political leaders alone – we all share a responsibility – through the expression of our personal opinion in the way in which we might vote, and in the conduct of our lives. Currently these are not easy times – compared even with the relatively recent past in our own land – times of acts of violence, even of terrorism – heightened tensions on grounds of race, religion and political opinion – and the problems of refugees and migration from other parts of the world. It is possible to be influenced by the opinions or prejudices of others – with the potential risk that the peace that we have enjoyed for over the last 70 years might begin to disintegrate.
So today, Remembrance Sunday we honour and give thanks for the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the world wars – and more than this, as far as it is necessary today at Mass, we pray for the repose of their souls. But we should also remind ourselves today that the legacy of peace that our forebears hand on to us is something delicate: we have a responsibility and a duty to ensure that this peace is preserved with the greatest care, so that we can hand it on to future generations.