In 1916, at the age of 17, my great-uncle Tom was killed during the battle of the Somme, along with all of his “pals” and another half a million or so boys and young men. About 70 years later, the medals he had been awarded posthumously were stolen from his elderly sister’s house by teenagers of a different generation.
It’s odd how in those times the young possessed a sense of duty, courage and honour, a long-forgotten innocence perhaps that drove them to sacrifice for their country, kin, and the freedoms they sought to defend. What was lacking in their leaders does not lessen their qualities.
How quickly the collective memory fades, though, even with another war in between. All is taken for granted, unappreciated — mocked, even.
A Victorian scholar came to the conclusion that, “War is the foundation of all the high virtues and faculties of men” and “that all great nations learned their truth of word and strength of thought in war; that they were nourished in war and wasted by peace, taught by war and deceived by peace; trained by war and betrayed by peace; in a word, that they were born in war and expired in peace”.
This is especially true in the Christian life, if the daily spiritual warfare we must engage in is not attended to.
The poor and persecuted Church, dressed in rags with calloused knees from supplication, knows it’s at war. And it leans in hard to prayer, clings to its saviour, knows its only source of hope and strength.
And strangely, through those times of strife, the persecuted become more and more open hearted to one another, too; in similar fashion as those who lived through wars did; they reminisce about those days when people pulled together, looked out for one another.
They are growing ever stronger in faith and virtue.
As the persecuted Church is tested by such trials, the Western Church has a far greater test to endure; prosperity.
The peaceful unhindered practice of faith, lives of relative opulence, slumped on the sofa, remote control in one hand and a mug of tea in the other. Smooth knees and calloused hearts? It takes us on a downward path to complacency and even to an illusory sense of entitlement. This weakens souls and eliminates virtue. It’s an invisible war, but an eternally dangerous one.
Our memory has faded, too. We forget what Jesus did for us, fail to appreciate it and take it for granted instead of developing a renewed sense of duty, courage and honour. Called to be vigilant; to pray like our lives depended on it (they do), make sacrifices for others, pass the test of generosity to those in need, be in solidarity in practical helpful ways with our suffering brethren.
We are all required to show up for battle each morning and fight all the day long for what we believe in; cherish; hope for.
Stephen Clark was born in Manchester. During the war in Bosnia he started an aid charity, leading to a renewed faith. He is married and lives in the Philippines, working for a children’s charity.