In this centenary year of the RAF the ringtone on my cell phone is the roar of a Spitfire’s Rolls Royce Merlin engine as it flies by. Its era is before my time but there is much to gain from a look at that period of history. In particular it reminds me of an extract from a letter written by a young pilot to his mother; left in the care of his CO in case he failed to return from a mission. His bomber went down over Belgium as they supported the evacuation of Dunkirk and bought time for the men on the beach. In it he writes “the universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice”. He was 23.
I wonder how far you would have to walk to meet a young man (or an old one) of such quality; with that kind of wisdom and clarity of thought. Other lines in his letter revealed how he saw the Germans as ‘the greatest organized challenge to Christianity and civilization’ and felt honoured to be part of the RAF and to ‘throw my full weight into the scale’.
He found his part in the ‘larger story’. He knew he was made for something more than this life; that our life in the flesh is where we prepare for the eternal spiritual life, here we must forge our legacy and our future by sacrificial love.
What he, and the many other defenders of those traditional values, died for has now been largely swept away. That Christian civilisation that the Nazi’s failed to destroy, successive governments have undermined as public opinion was swayed and the Christian witness was muted.
Recent anti-Christian developments include the insistence on Catholic adoption agencies to allow gay couples to adopt children or close down altogether and now I understand that praying and counselling outside abortion clinics may be prohibited by law soon. Now the enemy is no longer a hostile nation but a godless generation.
Many thought it wise to compromise or collaborate with Hitler, as was seen in France with the Vichy government, and perhaps there are those who try to do likewise here with the new regime too, compromising beliefs for a quiet life without confrontation.
But our only course can be to stand firm and fight on against these and the future attacks on the heart of Christian civilisation which is the family. Christians who don’t compromise or collaborate will find themselves in conflict with these new ‘values’ that we have allowed to gain traction.
What legacy will we leave, what will be the measure of this Catholic generation’s sacrifice? Perhaps another old soldier can lend his counsel from beyond the grave “Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in… Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” (Churchill)