Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

Today was dedicated by King George V as Armistice Day to commemorate the ending of the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the Germans signed the Armistice. Nowadays it has come to commemorate all those soldiers killed in war. It is commonly observed by a two-minute silence today at 11am, which is always a poignant moment in the busyness of normal life. It is a good time to pray for the souls of the deceased, especially those Catholics who died during the great wars.

I recently read an eye-opening article in this month's Mass of Ages magazine (Latin Mass Society) written by Fr David Smith RAChD, who is an Army chaplain and has ministered to the soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever anyone can say about the legitimacy of these wars, his witness is a striking one. He writes of the Extraordinary Form of Mass, which he has found very successful amongst the soldiers:
[In the old Mass] the idea of the Sacrifice is in your face. It is absolutely suffused with blood, battle and triumph. This Sacrifice is, so to speak, God's weapon against the powers of darkness...

The silences are important. Why? Because the life of the warrior is surrounded by noise and clamour. The killing-zone is not a place of quiet and calm. Silence is rare - and we crave it... In the face of such majesty, such suffering, even a soldier's 'lesser calvaries' are put into a certain context.

I found this article so powerful. Here is a priest who knows his flock, and realises that the Catholic Mass is so important and applicable to every human situation, even ones infinitely removed from our own experiences. Indeed, I began to realise the truth- that these men need the mercy and nourishment of this 'sacrament of sacraments' so much more acutely than I can ever imagine.

Also appropriately today is the feast of St Martin of Tours, who died in 397. Brought up the son of a military tribune, he was obliged to enlist as a soldier in the Roman army. During this time he was moved to compassion upon seeing a cold beggar, and divided his cloak for him. Touched by this incident, Martin eventually converted to the Catholic Faith. Upon his release from military service he become a monk under St Hiliary and later reluctantly became Bishop of Tours in France. He was renowned for his spirit of humility and mortification, and his example can also teach us the working of grace to touch human lives in the most unlikely of places.

In the two-minute silence of today, I will try to spiritually unite myself with the little silences which our modern-day warriors are going through; whether these silences are filled with anger, pain, bitterness, or the encounter with the divine that any Catholic can see in the Mass.

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