I feel I have to mark this moment: 11pm on the 4th August 1914, when Britain declared war on Germany and the First World War began for us. Thousands of Irish men fought in the British army, which was at that time our army and our country, and many of them died defending not just King and country, but for the cause of freedom. My great-grandfather was among them, thankfully he survived, but he bore the scars of battle for the rest of his life.
Their noble gesture was made in the light of the crazy refusal of powerful men to talk to each other, to find a peaceful way of resolving their differences, a great refusal which led to the deaths of millions. Pope Benedict XV pleaded with the warring factions, they ignored him. When Blessed Charles of Austria became Emperor of Austria he sought to make peace, to end the war, they ignored him too. Peace was rendered mute.
There are many lessons to be learned, we haven't learned them yet. But let us remember in prayer all those souls who died in this bitter conflict. Among them heroic priests like Fr Willie Doyle who offered his life for those he served in the trenches, dying a martyr of charity. And we must not forget that nobility and courage was to be found among those the allies were fighting, we remember them too.
Sir Edward, later Lord, Grey, Foreign Secretary, famously said that with the outbreak of this war "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime". Tonight people are extinguishing lamps and candles to mark the beginning of the war. I'm not so sure about that. Perhaps we should be lighting them again - why withdraw into darkness as we remember the horrors of war? Rather should we not come out into the light, and spread that light throughout the world so peace can speak in the light rather than be muffled in the darkness?
Let us pray for all those who died:
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them,
may they rest in peace. Amen.
Blessed Charles of Austria, pray for us
Fr Willie Doyle, pray for us
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