Yesterday, (Weds 14th October) I went to visit my Dad and look after him for the day. It was good to see him and he asked me if I’d take some flowers to Mum’s grave in the cemetery in Shepshed. I didn’t take my Dad on this occasion as he wasn’t in good health (he was recovering after pneumonia for three weeks). I took her some flowers and though the wind and temperature seemed to be cooler in the cemetery I also noticed the beauty. Is that strange? It’s a well-kept area with a ‘catholic’ bit and a ‘protestant’ bit and simply a ‘civil’ bit!! The self-evident reality came to mind again that when we die, all are the same. There’s an equality in the cemetery. In November we traditionally remember our dead loved ones, family members we’ve never met, servicemen and women who died in France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Iraq, and Afghanistan (to name just a few). An old phrase called the war dead the ‘Glorious Dead’. I’ve never been with someone who was about to die and who thought they were ‘glorious’. Some of the military people I’ve spoken to are brave and patriotic but often anti-war. They said the war was a sign of failure on many levels. Yet, these people down the years have gone off to war and died. They have paid the price for other people, mainly politicians’ failure. When we keep silent on the 11th of November at 11 am or on the 8th of November ( Remembrance Sunday) we have to promise to the silent dead that we will try to be better people, try to be more loving, more civil, and more caring people. Covid – 19 has brought out the best in people, members of the NHS, the nursing home carers, the emergency services, and even the military who have helped with testing. We’ve seen real courage, real bravery. Sadly, other people have provoked and stoked – fear, frustration, anger, xenophobia, and other negative feelings (many of these feelings are, in a Christian sense, sinful). Walking through Shepshed Cemetery I saw family members, former parishioners, and other war graves. It was interesting to see the forms of service – vets, Sherwood Foresters, Medical Corps, Royal Flying Corps. Some of these men knew that their lives were soon to end. For some, they thought the world itself would end. Yet they did their duty.
Here and now we are called to do our duty. As people of faith we are called to live out the Gospel values. We are called to die to self and live for Christ. This means serving, with love, people in need, doing what’s best for the common good and also putting others first. If we’re of no faith or if we’re unsure we are called to live in a civil way doing all the possible good we can. St Francis, the saint of peace and community, lived in total poverty without power or influence yet, little by little, he changed the world. He had the first interfaith dialogue with the Muslim Kalif in Egypt. Francis (like an arrogant Christian) thought that he’d be a martyr but something much more challenging happened. There was a conversation, learning from each other, there was a time of listening to each other. The following quote came from a study on St Francis: Encounter is the one way in which self-understanding and new horizons can be put to the test. World wars, illnesses and Covid-19 give us the opportunity to be faced with a new horizon, one that calls us to once more rediscover the needs to be good brothers and sisters in Christ and also good men, women and children who share a single humanity. As we remember the past may we be willing to learn from those events and those people who were close to us. This November may we, as a United Benefice and as various villages and hamlets, accept that we have links of affection and bonds of love. May we work together for a better world. I finish this letter with words from Pope Francis:
We are all brothers and sisters. St Francis of Assisi used to say: “All brothers and sisters”. And so, men and women of every religious confession are uniting themselves today in prayer and penance to ask for the grace of healing from this pandemic.
Please be very much assured of my prayers for you and our community. We pray for people’s jobs, workplaces, and those who are ill at this time.
Revd. Stephen Monk