Remembrance Sunday 2017
In England & Wales, today is kept as Remembrance Sunday, and one Requiem Mass is permitted on this day. The following homily by Fr Fabian Radcliffe is preached with this occasion in mind.
Remembrance Sunday is the time when people wear red poppies. That, of course, is a well-established tradition. But a while ago I saw someone wearing both a red and a white poppy. I had never seen this before, so I said to him: ‘Why are you wearing a red poppy AND a white poppy?’ He replied: ‘The red is for remembrance. The white is for peace’.
I found that really thought-provoking. We call today ‘Remembrance Sunday’, or ‘Armistice Day’. But maybe we should call it ‘Peace Sunday’ instead. That would give it quite a different feel. ‘Peace Sunday’ would not put emphasis on past wars. It would look forward to what we are trying to build: justice, harmony, well-being and the flourishing of all.
Both ‘Remembrance’ and ‘Armistice’ are words which look back to past wars. ‘Armistice’ recalls the day when, thankfully, the madness of World War I ended. World War 2 finished in a much more up-beat fashion, with VE and VJ Days marking the end of the war in Europe and the Far East respectively. Both words mean the end of conflict, whether in exhaustion or in triumph. It is right that we remember with gratitude the courage and suffering of those who died in those wars, knowing that we now live in freedom because of their service and self-sacrifice. It is right that we should honour and respect those who ‘loved not their lives even unto death’.
But suppose we had been defeated in the 2nd World War. How would we feel then about our own soldiers and relatives, who had died apparently for no good outcome? We would probably feel a sense of futility and waste, that their deaths had been in vain. And surely this must be how mothers and fathers from Germany and Italy and Japan felt, whose sons were killed in war, or whose relatives died in air raids or through starvation or in other ways. Whether you win or lose, all war is a tragic mess. It is no good trying to glorify it.
So we celebrate Remembrance Sunday simply because we won the war. If we had lost, we would surely feel very differently about it. We can rightly say it was necessary to stand against aggression; sometimes there seems to be no other solution. So it is right to express our gratitude for those who gave their lives for us. But our remembering should not be simply for our own people. What about all those who also believed they were fighting for a good cause, for their freedom and their families? If we ignore them, we will be maintaining the same attitude of ‘us against them’, and keeping the conflict alive in our own minds.
You may remember that Pope St John Paul II visited the UK just at the time of the Falklands War. In his sermon at Coventry, he had the courage to say that in the settlement of international disputes, war should not even be considered as an option. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, and he set the tone by praying for those who were crucifying him: ‘Father, forgive’ – words that are now on the altar of the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral. If we cannot pray for our enemies, the enmity continues within us and the war has been fought in vain, whether we win or lose.
Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. He did not say: ‘Blessed are those who won the war, those who had sufficient resources and weaponry to crush their enemies’. He said: ‘Blessed are the peace-makers’ who work to build a world of peace. But there are two kinds of pacifists. There are those who will not use violence because it seems somehow to contaminate them, and they withdraw from the whole sad business. There are also those who strive actively for peace, if necessary by meeting violence with non-violence. I think we all know which is more Christ-like.We can all be peace-makers. We may not be able to influence international politics. But we all have roots of violence within us. There are people or groups who we hate, or feel contempt for; and those for whom it might never occur to us to pray for. In the spirit of Christ, we can work to change ourselves, with his help.
May today be a genuine Remembrance Sunday: a day when we remember lovingly before God all his people who died in the major wars of the past century. Above all, let it be a Peace Sunday, when we pray and try to work for reconciliation and harmony. Then, with Christ, we may all become true peacemakers.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.