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From Battle, Murder and Sudden Death – Br. James Koester

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In this homily, given at the Society’s monthly requiem, Br. James offers a helpful perspective and way to pray for the living and the dead of Haiti.

There is a phrase that comes to us from the Great Litany, which when I heard it growing up in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s elicited a smile from me. It was so beyond my world experience that I could only think it quaint, coming as it did, from another time and place, far removed from the realities of my own life: “From battle, murder and sudden death; Good Lord, deliver us.”

Growing up as I did in Canada, removed from the immediate effects of Viet Nam I knew no one my age who contemplated seriously the thought of going to war. No one I knew in my neighbourhood had been murdered and sudden death came only in car accidents, and even those were rare occurrences. In my world, death came after a long life, and usually happened in your own bed.

Today, my world view is completely different. As of today 140 Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan, not to mention the countless civilians, and while no one I know has been killed, I do know chaplains who have dealt with the trauma of those deaths and the possibility of death by battle on a daily basis. I regret to say, that now I do know people who have been murdered, both a parent of a school friend, and young men associated with our former Camp St. Augustine. And the reality of sudden death has filled our TV screens with images of September 11th, Katrina, the Boxing Day Tsunami and now Haiti. We all know, or know of people who have been touched by those tragedies. That prayer from the Great Litany is no longer quant, but one prayed, at least by me, and at least today, with a sense of urgency and immediacy.

Today we keep celebrate one of our monthly requiems, specifically for those men in our community who died over the years in the month of January: men like our founder, Father Richard Meux Benson who died in his own bed, after a long fruitful life of service. But there are also those men in our history like Father Simeon Wilberforce O’Neil who died unexpectedly in India, during a cholera epidemic, or Father Reginald Thompson Podmore who was killed in action while tending the wounded shortly before the evacuation from Dunkirk.

Death comes to us all, and for some of us it will come in old age, in our own beds, after a long life of fruitful service. For others it will come suddenly and unexpectantly as we have seen all too starkly in Haiti this past week. However death comes to us, today’s requiem is an occasion for three things.

It is an occasion to say “thank you”, thank you to God for this life, but just as importantly thank you to God for the life of “those we love, but see no longer.”

It is an occasion to say to another “I am sorry”, “I forgive you” for as our Rule of Life reminds us: “[r]emembering that death can come to us at any time will spur us to be prepared, by continual renewal of our repentance and acceptance of the forgiveness of God, to meet Christ without warning.”

But so too is today an occasion to say to another “I love you” for again as our Rule tells us: “[w]e shall [need to] remember to express to one another those things that would make us ready to part without regrets, especially thankfulness and reconciliation.”

Death comes to us all, sometimes in our old age, in our own beds, after a long life of fruitful service. Sometimes, death comes horrifically and in overwhelming ways. We can’t prevent it, but we can prepare for it: “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you,” “I love you.”

In a sense, these monthly requiems are gentle reminders, in ways that the news out of Haiti this week has not, that we all have business to do, and we need to attend to it, and we need to attend to it today. “Thank you.” “I’m sorry.” “I forgive you.” “I love you.”

From battle, murder and sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.

As of 1 January 2010, 138 Canadian armed service personnel and 2 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan <www.metronews.ca/toronto/world/article/410907–canadian-death-toll-in-afghan-mission-138-soldiers-2-civilians>

Father Richard Meux Benson, died Oxford, 14 January 1915
Father Simeon Wilberforce O’Neil, died Indore, India, 28 August 1882
Father Reginald Thompson Podmore, died Pas de Calais, France, 23 May 1940
“From battle, murder, and sudden death”: 1979 BCP page 504
“Remembering that death can come to us at any time . . .”: SSJE Rule of Life: Holy Death, chapter 48

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