Once when I was driving to visit an uncle of mine in Belgium, I stopped at a WWI cemetery. It was a small graveyard, in the southern part of Flanders; even though it seemed a bit neglected, the poppies were in bloom, and the famous poem was inscribed at the entrance gate:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row….
Canadian John McCrae, from Guelph, wrote the poem in the fields at Ypres the day after his best friend died. It was early in the war, and the romanticism that many—soldiers and civilians alike—felt was still strong. We remember the dead, who sacrificed for us and who pass their mission on to us:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high…
For me, November is a month of remembrance. In the Church, we begin the month by commemorating all of those holy people who have gone before us, those who will probably never be officially canonized, yet who are with God as part of the communion of saints in heaven, the “cloud of witnesses,” as the Letter to the Hebrews says. And then as a nation, we commemorate those who have died in the service of country. Although November 11 was chosen because it was the day the Armistice was signed, ending World War I (the “Great War”—the “War to end all wars”), we remember all those who have died in service of country. I think that we also honour their memory when we work for peace, so that nobody else need fight in war.
There are some tasks, though, that cannot be passed to another. Scripture commentators mention that this weekend’s gospel passage is not one about generosity; rather, it points out that each of us have tasks that God requires of us; they cannot be loaned or given by another. This week begins a three-week series when our gospel points us toward the end times. And Jesus is quite clear: we each have a role to play, and we are either ready for him or not; there is no in-between. Unlike McCrae’s dead in the poem, when the end comes, Jesus will not ask us if we’ve given our tasks to others to complete. He will ask us what we ourselves have done. May we all be ready to receive him at any moment.