Parish of St Matthew the Apostle,
Douglas, Isle of Man

The Parish Priest ponders ……

What it is to remember

Several years ago, I went for a wander through the village of Walsingham; I was on pilgrimage there. In one of the shops I noticed an imposing image of ‘Christ the King.’ On closer inspection I discovered that it was in fact an image of the ‘Sacred Heart.’ The only indication was of Jesus touching the place of his heart while his other hand was held in blessing. This image had a profound impact on me. While the most striking revelation of God’s love for us is shown in the dying Christ on the Cross, before me was a revelation of Our Lord touching our lives with the love that we have for him and one another. I reflected on this with my fellow pilgrims and was slightly embarrassed when this image was given to me on the day of our departure for home.

The month of November (like the herb Rosemary) is for remembrance. We hold before God those we have known and loved and who ‘now rest in the sleep of peace.’

We also pray for those who have died in armed conflict so that we might live in a free society. Christians have remembered the dead in prayer from the earliest times as an act of Christian charity. “If we had no care for the dead”, St Augustine noted, “we would not be in the habit of praying for them.” Yet a liturgical commemoration was not observed until the early Middle Ages, when monastic communities began to mark an annual day of prayer for their departed members.

In the middle of the 11th century, St. Odilo, abbot of Cluny (France), decreed that all Cluniac monasteries should offer special prayers and sing the Office for the Dead on November 2nd, the day after the feast of All Saints. The custom spread from Cluny and was finally adopted throughout the Church.

We will also gather on 12th November this year (Remembrance Sunday) to pray for those who have died in war. While the focal point of this day has been the two World Wars, a great many more people have been affected in recent years by the Falklands War, the destruction of the Twin Towers, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and those who have been murdered by Daesh terrorists.

Remembering, therefore, brings with it a fair share of heartache: of loss, of separation, of anger and, in some, the desire for revenge. Often it is so easy to view death as this ‘thing’ which takes away rather than being a time of us giving back; a time of being robbed rather than the return of a priceless gift. It was as Christ was dying on the Cross that his family and friends felt these emotions. Good Friday really was the day of darkness. Without it there would not have been Easter: the prospect of eternal life and the defeat of evil and sin. On the Cross and in the garden Christ reached out to all those who were prepared to suffer and die not just for their country, but to reveal to us humility and acceptance that death is a gateway to eternity.

I have just gazed at my image of the Sacred Heart and know that Christ is reaching out this month to all whose hearts are broken; whose lives have changed forever. Acceptance of this, I trust, may ease the pain and bring hope. When you gather to remember this month try and hold on to the joy of Easter and of what was won by Christ’s death. You may even like to remember those who have no one to remember them and who will have only your prayers.

With love and prayer

Fr Tom