‘As I have loved you, so you must love each other. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.’
Dear friends, whoever we are, these words of the Lord Jesus speak to every human heart. Love is both something given and something received. The gift of love, the power of love, the sacrifice of love, creates a bond between persons, an eternal bond. And sometimes love pays the ultimate price. It really does love to the very end.
So many of those who died in war carried with them photographs of those they loved, their families, their friends, their sweethearts. The devastating lists of fatalities from two World Wars, and from subsequent conflicts up to our present day, are all made up of unique individuals. Each one irreplaceable, each one loved.
Emily Chitticks, writing in 1917 to her fiancé Private William Martin, concludes her letter: ‘… Well darling I don’t know much more to say now, so will close with fondest love and kisses from your loving little girl. Emily. P.S. Cheer up darling, and don’t worry about me. I am quite alright, only anxious to get your letters. There is good news in the papers. Love from Mum and Dad.’ Emily wrote on 28th March, not knowing that the day before Will had been killed in action.[i]
How could we not remember so many lives, so many loved ones, lost because of war? Our annual remembrance remains for some a daily struggle, their pain very much alive on the battleground of recovery.
To quote famous words, those who cannot remember the past, those who fail to learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.[ii] How slow we have been, how slow we are, to remember and enact the commandment ‘you must love each other.’
This year we mark the seventy-fifth anniversaries of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, as well as the Battles of Imphal and Kohima in India. As we remember the bravery and sacrifice of every person who laid down their life to combat aggression, ours is an inclusive remembrance. We refuse to forget anyone. We will remember, we do remember, each and every victim of warfare.
But our acts of remembrance can never just be about the past. They compel us to ensure that our present activity safeguards our common future inheritance. Authentic peace is more than the absence of war. Authentic peace is more than a balance of power between enemies. Authentic peace can never be brought about by dictatorship. Authentic peace is ‘an enterprise of justice,’ where every person matters. [iii]
‘As I have love you, so you must love each other.’ Justice demands this. Peace depends upon it.
[ii] ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ (George Santayana-1905). In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill changed the quote slightly when he said (paraphrased), ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
[iii] The Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 78.