Sunday, 11 November 2012

Lest We Forget...

By Artur Suski, S.J.

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Today, the majority of the world celebrates Remembrance Day – a day in which we remember those who have fought for our motherlands and the civilians who have been killed in times of war. We remember their bravery and their dedication: these were men and women who have fearlessly fought for the freedom of their homelands that were challenged by totalitarian regimes bent on destroying other countries’ cultures and faiths in order to erect their own ungodly towers of domination and devastation. This is also a day of thanksgiving, as many of us have been born into a free country thanks to the hardships of these brave souls.

I would add, however, that there are two other very important reasons why we celebrate Remembrance Day. Firstly, we remember the atrocities and evils that have happened in order not to repeat the same evils again. If we look at two of the destructive regimes of the Second World War (the Russian Soviet Communists and the German Nazis), we see that they were not always as such. True, Russia under the Tsars’ rule wasn’t the most peaceful land, nor was Prussia; but they were nowhere near to what they became later under Communist rule. They developed into a totalitarian regime over time; step-by-step they became who they were.

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Therefore, it is for this reason that we remember in order to be on guard against similar developments in our own times. In other words, Remembrance Day can be a yearly self-examination: how is our country doing these days? Are we moving towards a totalitarian system? Of course, there is no “Remembrance Day” police to ensure that countries do not move in such a direction. But for us citizens who make up the country, it is good to be aware of what is going on in our land. What is the state of free speech these days? Are there groups being persecuted because of their views? Is truth being suppressed? Are innocent people being put to death? We remember in order to prevent.

Secondly, we need good role models of self-sacrifice. Through their deeds, we see that it is indeed possible to be heroic and brave. Bravery and heroism must have their place in our culture, and I do not only refer here to war. We have forgotten what it means to be brave and heroic. Our lives seem to be so devoid of chances to be courageous and heroic that when we are faced with an opportunity, we cower away because we do not know how to handle ourselves in such a situation. I don’t mean great, spectacular deeds, as these are rare; I mean everyday opportunities that we are presented with to stand up for justice and the good. It often takes guts to do so.

For instance, a recent challenge in our school systems and to some degree in our workplaces is bullying. If I were to see someone being bullied at school or at work, would I stand back and do nothing or would I confront the matter by going to the principal or office manager? It takes courage to speak the truth and stand up for justice – one may say that such everyday mundane occurrences call for heroism. Remembering our heroic predecessors will help us to persevere in our own moments of trial. Let us therefore remember their lives with admiration and gratitude and ask for their prayers. Lest we forget.

I end with a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola, which captures something of this heroic self-sacrifice:

Lord, teach me to be generous 
Teach me to serve you as you deserve 
To give and not to count the cost 
To fight and not to heed the wounds 
To toil and not to seek for rest 
To labour and not to seek reward 
Save that of knowing I do your most holy will.

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