Sunday, 14 November 2010
Remembrance Sunday, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Shaftesbury
Today in Britain we keep Remembrance Sunday when we think of those who have died in the wars: we thank God for their labours and sacrifice, and pray to God for them.
This year I would like to spend a moment recalling a virtue that we associate with soldiers, a virtue that is typically defined with respect to soldiers, namely, fortitude, and its related act: endurance.
The Latin word for fortitude, which gives us the ancient meaning that saints and philosophers assigned to it, combines both strength and courage.
The ancient philosopher Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas both write at great length about fortitude and they describe it as THE soldierly virtue, the virtue that faces fear (Summa Theologica II-II q123 a3) and faces death (a5). In particular, St Thomas considers what is the DEFINING act of fortitude, and says that it is endurance, because it is endurance that enables a man to stand firm in the face of fear and death (a6).
And, in this, the soldier models something that all of us need to live.
The soldier endures despite discomfort and difficulty before the battlefield, the soldier endures despite fear and uncertainty in the midst of a battle, and the soldier endures despite the attack of the enemy.
For us as Christians, Scripture explicitly describes Christians as "soldiers of Jesus Christ”(2 Tim 2:3) and describes us as such in the context of saying that we must "endure suffering".
In today's gospel we heard the Lord Jesus also speak about endurance and about suffering: he spoke in particular about the sufferings that would accompany the end of the world: nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes and plagues and famines and fearful signs from heaven. Worse still, for Christians, there will be persecution.
And what must the Christian do in the midst of all this? What is it that will gain the Christian eternal life? Jesus says, “Your ENDURANCE will win you your lives"(Lk 21:19).
The endurance I have just described is perhaps most obvious in the face of the dramatic sufferings Jesus indicated. However, there are many other forms of endurance that characterise Christian living: to love others often requires simple endurance in the form of patience with other people; to love others in obedience to Christ's command requires a further form of endurance in that it requires endurance in the form of maintaining our hope in the promised reward for loving others; and loving others include endurance in the form of patience with the difficulties of life so that we don't allow our illnesses and difficulties, our personal crosses, to make a so disagreeable that we fail to love. To be a Christian is to endure.
So, to come back to where I began, as we think today of the many soldiers who died in the wars, let us think too of the way in which soldierly fortitude, and its principal act of endurance, models the endurance that we each need to be manifesting in our daily Christian lives.