Remembrance Sunday 2017

I am repeating a post I wrote originally in 2015 because it says exactly what I would like to say and pray this morning.

poppies

Poppies by Giuseppe Moscato (www.flickr.com/photos/pinomoscato/)
Image source: Flickr. Used under Creative Commons licence

For people of a certain age or religious belief, Remembrance Sunday is uncomplicated. We pray for the dead and ask God to change our hearts and minds so that war is done away with altogether. Our prayer may be tinged with memories of family members looking out of black and white photographs into a future they were destined never to know, or seared by remembrance of the terrible wounds of mind and body borne even now by those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it is essentially unsentimental, unarguable. People fought; they died; we remember, and we pray. We are grateful for the sacrifices that made our freedoms possible, but we don’t want them repeated. We want a world at peace.

But what if we haven’t grown up with those photographs — if we have swallowed wholesale the revisionist histories or political ideologies that confuse ends and means  and make us uncertain, troubled? What if we have no faith that looks through death? Then, I think, we are left with little more than vague sentiment, regret and fear. Millions of deaths, whether as combatants or civilians, are hard to get our minds round. The more we know about the conduct of this war or that and the political shenanigans that accompanied them, the further away we are from any sense of personal connectedness, the less easy it is to accept the simple view of history. We walk hesitantly where our forebears strode confidently. And if we have no faith, the poppies and the bugle calls bring no peace, no certainty that ultimately sin and failure are redeemed, only regret and an unfathomable bleakness of mind and spirit. We are in the wilderness again.

This morning many of us will have our own private memories of war and the grief that war brings, but even if we don’t, this national act of remembrance is one in which we can take part with integrity and purposefulness. During the two minutes’ silence let us pray not only for the fallen and the wounded, for forgiveness and healing, but also for understanding. Just as peace begins within, so does war. The conflicts of the twenty-first century look like being very different from those of the twentieth, but the toll they will exact in terms of human suffering and death will be the same. Unless we are prepared to make the effort to understand others, we can be sure we will have to pay the price. ‘Peace has her victories no less than war,’ we are told. Indeed, and the greatest of these is to make war impossible. Let us remember that, too.

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On the Anniversary of 9/11

I’m sure I’m not the only British person who has to think twice about the date of 9/11 because we habitually use the order day, month, year (in despite of Hart’s Rules) for recording dates. For many people the events of 9/11 are now a rather shadowy memory. For those who lost family or friends it can be a painfully lonely anniversary. They still grieve, but the rest of the world has moved on to other tragedies, other enormities. To remember what happened, to pray for those who died, to allow both the horror and the hope that followed in its wake to move us is to acknowledge our common humanity. Here in the monastery we shall be joining in prayer with all who remember this day and desire a world in which peace and mutual love and respect triumph over the will to destroy.

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Remembrance Sunday 2015

poppies
Poppies by Giuseppe Moscato (www.flickr.com/photos/pinomoscato/)
Image source: Flickr. Used under Creative Commons licence

For people of a certain age or religious belief, Remembrance Sunday is uncomplicated. We pray for the dead and ask God to change our hearts and minds so that war is done away with altogether. Our prayer may be tinged with memories of family members looking out of black and white photographs into a future they were destined never to know, or seared by remembrance of the terrible wounds of mind and body borne even now by those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it is essentially unsentimental, unarguable. People fought; they died; we remember, and we pray. We are grateful for the sacrifices that made our freedoms possible, but we don’t want them repeated. We want a world at peace.

But what if we haven’t grown up with those photographs — if we have swallowed wholesale the revisionist histories or political ideologies that confuse ends and means  and make us uncertain, troubled? What if we have no faith that looks through death? Then, I think, we are left with little more than vague sentiment, regret and fear. Millions of deaths, whether as combatants or civilians, are hard to get our minds round. The more we know about the conduct of this war or that and the political shenanigans that accompanied them, the further away we are from any sense of personal connectedness, the less easy it is to accept the simple view of history. We walk hesitantly where our forebears strode confidently. And if we have no faith, the poppies and the bugle calls bring no peace, no certainty that ultimately sin and failure are redeemed, only regret and an unfathomable bleakness of mind and spirit. We are in the wilderness again.

This morning many of us will have our own private memories of war and the grief that war brings, but even if we don’t, this national act of remembrance is one in which we can take part with integrity and purposefulness. During the two minutes’ silence let us pray not only for the fallen and the wounded, for forgiveness and healing, but also for understanding. Just as peace begins within, so does war. The conflicts of the twenty-first century look like being very different from those of the twentieth, but the toll they will exact in terms of human suffering and death will be the same. Unless we are prepared to make the effort to understand others, we can be sure we will have to pay the price. ‘Peace has her victories no less than war,’ we are told. Indeed, and the greatest of these is to make war impossible. Let us remember that, too.

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Of Chantry Chapels and Olden Times

It isn’t often we have the opportunity of visiting any of the lovely medieval churches and chapels one finds throughout the length and breadth of the country, but when we do, it is always with a sense of pilgrimage. I am very conscious of the fact that ‘here prayer has been valid,’ and after we have prayed for the present incumbent and people of the parish, we say a Pater and Ave in Latin for those who worshiped here in earlier times. If no one else is around, we’ll conclude by singing the Marian anthem of the season. I wouldn’t want you to think, however, that this is an exercise in mere antiquarianism or religious sentimentality. On the contrary, it is an act of worship and a fulfilment of the duty of prayer, but especially so in the case of chantry chapels.

Most of the chantry chapels of our medieval churches were endowed in perpetuity for Masses to be sung and prayers offered for the souls of the deceased. In most cases, the Reformation brought an abrupt end to this practice; so, whenever we come across a chantry chapel, we pause and say the De profundis and Requiem aeternam dona eis for the souls of those for whom the chapel or altar was erected. I regard this as more than a pious act. It is the fulfilment of a sacred obligation to which we, as Benedictines, are particularly sensitive. Yet the obligation is more general than many people realise. It is too little known, for example, that when prayers are offered or Masses said ‘for the pope’s intentions’, those intentions include all the obligations of pre-Reformation times for chantry chapels, guilds and the like.

It is good to remember that the Church never forgets any of her children — no matter how badly or sinfully they may have lived.

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Heaven in Ordinarie: the Poetry of Prayer

I offer you a thought so simple you may find it embarrassing, but I consider it worth making nonetheless.

Towards the end of every Office, when attention may be beginning to stray, we have a kind of threefold litany. In English it runs

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

May the help of God remain with us always.
And with our absent brethren. Amen.

In these three short phrases we express what we believe about the Church: that she exists to praise and thank God, a work which will continue into eternity; that the dead are members of the Church whom we pray for as we do the living; and that the company of believers extends beyond what we can see and hear to encompass all the baptized. It is a reminder, as we return to our work, that what we call rather abstractly ‘the liturgy’ is in fact a concrete realisation of our hope and trust in God. We give thanks; affirm our faith; and ask for God’s help in the most direct way possible.

George Herbert speaks of prayer as ‘heaven in ordinarie’, and I think these concluding versicles are a beautiful instance of what he meant. They trip off the tongue almost automatically several times a day, but they contain within themselves a whole world of meaning. They are the poetry of prayer no less than the psalms and canticles, and as with all poetry, they do not yield all their secrets at once. If you pray them today, try to do so a little more slowly, allowing the richness of their meaning to sink in.

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