This morning Father Nicholas celebrated 8am Mass in the parish before heading off to remembrance day obligations elsewhere. Being a former soldier he is always busy on armistice day. Meanwhile I remained in Pembury to celebrate 9:15am and 11am Mass. Deacon Robert represented the parish at the civic celebration at the village war memorial. As you can see, from this fabulous photograph, he went for an understated sartorial elegance!
One or two people asked me to post this morning’s sermon. Here it is:
The remembrance day of my childhood is fading. As a boy those two world wars were alien to me but I could sense they meant much to my grandfather’s generation. There was an air of true solemnity when veterans uttered the infamous words- we shall remember. For them those wars were real. It was their friends and family who paid the price for freedom. For my children those wars will seem different again. A history lesson for the last WW1 veteran died in 2012 and many who served in WW2 have also died. The WW2 generation is fading from living memory. Why then continue to celebrate remembrance Sunday?
First because the war to end all wars was no such thing; people continue to die and suffer because of man’s inhumanity. Second remembrance is a time for reflecting on past mistakes to avoid pitfalls in the future. An aspect occasionally neglected; many recognise the horror of two world wars- but few realise their legacy on Western society. And so the present danger is we might then repeat those mistakes.
What lesson to take from two world wars? My first reflection is to ask if either would have happened but for the reformation? Now that might seem an extraordinary claim- until you consider how disastrous the reformation was in terms of a loss of cultural identity in Europe. It caused an erosion of the faith that had historically bound Europe in peace. After the bloodshed of reformation Europe was left fragmented and divided. We have never really recovered; truth be told.
And the reformation left Europe rudderless; a church now deeply divided in the West lost credibility clarity and the meta narrative. Confusion ensued when myriad denominations began popping up- each contradicting the other. Christianity no longer spoke with one voice. And this inevitably led, in time, to the abandonment of faith altogether- the process of secularisation in Europe had begun.
It sparked a questioning of fundamental Christian principles. Darwin challenging belief that humans are embodied souls; suggesting we are but brute animals, the fittest of whom survive. Descartes thinking led to refusal of the existence of the soul altogether – intellect makes man; I think – therefore I am. Such philosophers were hitting out against religion- the unintended consequence of which was to strip man of intrinsic dignity and worth. No longer accountable to God, such thinking was then put into practice.
Thus in the concentration camp dominant Nazia exterminated weaker Jews. In the gulag man treated as nothing more than meaningless cells competing for survival. And sadly this evil did not teach us many lessons today. Witness 8 million abortions since they became legal. Clearly babies are no longer believed to have intrinsic worth or value in the womb- but are rather written off, in the name of liberation, as inconvenient cells.
And those wars had another corrosive effect. They contributed to the other scourge of modern time- family breakdown. Lengthy global war meant children deprived of fathers and wives of husbands (and husbands of wives) on historic scale. Infidelity- amongst men fearing the next bullet, and women abandoned -caused fracture in many a home. So when the families came back together, in the 1950’s, an era of false happiness dawned. A traumatised world playing at happy families. But beneath the smiles and newfound rock music lay shame and wounds. A western world was processing the terrible guilt of concentration camps and gulags. Of the destruction that ensues when you strip man of his intended dignity.
The result: people opted to put history behind them. They raised a generation of children to feel both entitled and permissive. Entitled because they were to be the architects of a new dawn for mankind- the world of modernisation. The spirit of the 60’s and 70’s was born. A time of confidence and hope for a brave new world. Out with the stuffy old Church in with enlightened Hollywood. Goodbye crusty grandad and hello groovy kids. The foundations were thus set in place for the sexual revolution which continues to inspire that generation today who grew up to be our modern Western leadership. The children of revolution.
The desire was healthy- who could resist bringing peace and love to the world? But the methodology flawed. Confidence was being placed in man not God. And when grace is removed from the human equation it never ends well; thus, in 2017, the modernisation project is fast unravelling. The wheels are coming off amidst rising greed, corruption and a total loss of confidence in big business and government.
We see further fragmentation of our Judeo-Christian culture as it is reduced to a secular wilderness; Trump versus Clinton, Remain versus Brexit, Catalan versus Spain; all around us is a new sense of hostility and division. So little seems to unite us anymore. Certainly not our faith – long since abandoned- nor family and community – eroded and broken by the zeitgeist. We have lost those things which once held us together in cultural terms.
So we now live in a moral and spiritual vacuum. And a cultural war arises between those who would fill this vacuum . Three camps emerge- those who would return us to historic Christianity, those who would further secular grip and those who would introduce a radicalised Islam to Europe. The battle of Britain is on us again.
The veterans of two world wars did not fight for a secular Europe with a love of pornography, vice and tawdry self indulgence. Nor for an extremist Islamic vision. They died to protect the Judeo-Christian culture that forged this land. To protect an England we are in danger of selling down the river without a fight today. Will you fight to protect the Christian heritage now under attack? Not with bullets but love. Not with weapons but prayer. Will you put on the armour of Christ? Will you shrug off complacency and burn with love for the Gospel?
We so desperately need people to take up this cause and live lives of authentic holiness and radical witness. To shine as Christ’s light amidst the darkness lest the darkness overthrow us and our historic legacy and culture is lost.To win the battle of Britain we must build up the one true faith- in our homes, in our workplace and in our daily lives. We must give our lives to Christ afresh.