Well its been and gone, now its practically a crime to be seen wearing a poppy now that our culture’s collective guilt has been aired and put back in its box for another year.
That is how it seems to me if I’m honest.
The Catholic Church on the other hand still has the rest of November especially dedicated to praying for the dead, so in a way, at least metaphorically we should hold onto those poppies a little while longer.
Remembrance Sunday services are a very delicate balance between nationalism and patriotism on the one hand and respect for the dead and praying for peace. I attended a mass where we sang I vow to thee my country, followed by 2 minutes silence, followed by “at the going down of the sun” then the national anthem. I found it a bit uncomfortable really.
I find ‘I vow to thee’ uncomfortable, particularly in the context of Armistice day, because those soldiers who fight and die in our wars, do it because their Sergent’s shout at them, do it for their mates, do it for their families, do it because it is a job, not highfalutin national ideals.
The Hymn also, perhaps merely for reasons of poetic meter, places a vow to country before its vow to the heavenly Kingdom. I’d argue it should be the other way around, we can only have a healthy understanding of the right place of patriotism, or human love, if it is informed by a relationship with God first.
There are a few of problems with singing the national anthem in Church that nag and niggle at me.
1 Its musically dreadful.
2 Its got verses we like to skip over because they are totally xenophobic, racist and colonialist and their absence looms like a black cloud over the whole thing.
3 Its about a Monarch who is protestant and is still the head of the C of E. Liz isn’t as culpable as Henry VIII or Elizabeth I but she is still perpetuating this strange established church set up. A set up that cares a lot less for theological truth or Christian morality than for making sure the gears of political correctness keep turning.
4 We pray Liz enforces our laws but there are plenty of laws in this country which are totally unjust and unchristian, a fair few of them passed by the last government, but whether the Tories will ever get around to repealing them is another question.
5 We are in a universal Church, we are not just a single nation. It is eminently possible to be patriotic and Catholic, but it is sometimes a fine line between patriotism and nationalism. This should be clarified before singing the national anthem, even if we only sing the two least offensive verses.
6 We should be worshiping God in Church… does the national anthem really do that? or does it just thank God for how he made us superior to everyone else?
Also I think it is worth mentioning that as Catholics we can, should and must pray for the dead and not just in November, we are in communion with the holy souls through the Mass, through the Church, through the holy spirit.
There is something a little bit akin to an ommission by just saying the “at the going down of the sun” poem. Our prayers can make a big difference to the holy souls, a lot more than just remembrance. Praying for God’s mercy for the dead is never futile, we have so much more hope for and a natural relationship with the departed through God which we should engage with at every opportunity but especially on such a relevant occasion.
A lot of soldiers are young when the are killed in action, how many of them were ready to meet their maker? that is the beauty of purgatory, we can pray in hope that even the most rough and ready soul, the unprepared, can be purified by God and brought into the fullness of His presence.
We can have great hope for them because there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole and there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends, and more realistically this is what soldiers die for, not patriotism.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.