Friday 8th May is V.E. Day which means – since it is just about possible someone under 60 will read this blog – Victory in Europe Day when the second world war officially ended in that (as they say) ‘theatre of war’. It all seems a very long time ago, even to people like me who had parents who fought in the war – and had lots of tales to tell, by no means all sad and gloomy! In fact, and despite the differences now faced with this invisible virus (it is no good hiding under the stairs or a sturdy table for this one), we might all learn something from their, ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ approach (as the tea towels proclaims).
Do I, though, have any strong personal connection with V.E. Day celebrations? Naturally I am glad Nazism was defeated. I am thankful for all those who made such a sacrifice for the future of Europe. But doesn’t a celebration of this sort encourage a re-enactment of ‘the war’ and of geo-political configurations which are now part of history? Not to be confused with the world and the challenges we currently face (as the xenophobia of Brexit most certainly and – for me – shamefully did). Is all this of any relevance to me today?
Michael Collins magnificent sermon, which you can hear on this website (see below in the more intimate audio version) or within the recorded VE Day video mass, really explores the moral and ethical issues around war and violence in thorough and thoughtful detail. But then of course we remember that at the very centre of the Christian faith is a violent act – the cruel, barbarous and slow crucifixion of Jesus Christ. What this murder ‘means’ for humanity has been the subject of theological discussion, artistic exploration, ritual and personal belief, for the last 2000 years and, if you have the head for it, seminal books such as Rene Girard’s, Violence and the Sacred [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_and_the_Sacred]Violence, murder, sacrifice, seem woven into the human story – from Cain and Abel and Abram onwards.
As a priest, too, at some stage in your ministry you face wickedness in fairly undiluted forms. Whether it is cruelty within families, the mindless knife crimes and drug-related violence of South London in my case, or simply people behaving in ways that are hard to explain except by saying such behaviour is just plain sinful. It can come as a shock. Recently here in Malta we have had the murder of a journalist for investigating things some people would rather she had not. Of course we can disagree with any journalist’s accusations, their methods or style – but murdering them is quite another matter. Whatever the motive, reason or so-called justification, this is not only a crime but a mortal sin. And it is happening today, here and now.
VE Day is not a time for flag-waving or for feeling smug that “we” were on the winning side, but more a thankfulness that great wickedness was defeated and that institutionalised state murder, revealed for what it was, was confronted and stopped – at least until the next time. We must never be allowed to forget either that it was the individual bravery of men and women – of these islands as well as elsewhere – that stopped that wickedness. VE Day is a marker in the sand of time that says on this day, collectively, such ideologies are rejected by all people of goodwill. But Christians believe further that it is individual and personal commitment to the good and the rejection of evil which God requires. It is not simply the signing of general policy documents but the personal determination to make a difference in one’s own life and that of those around us. There is always a choice and VE Day reminds us of the choice many made 75 years ago which was amazing. But we too need again and now to choose peace, justice and right in 2020. The ideology of the Nazis – albeit by different names – still needs defeating. Then we will truly honour those who have gone before.