The following is a piece I wrote after visiting Juno Beach in the summer of 2010.
And in it, did I hear the echoes of that day, roaring wind, crashing waves, aircraft engines, landing craft, bombs and bullets whizzing by, taking so many, to capture a pillbox?
I wondered, who were these pilgrims, who had found their way to these very beaches sixty-six summers ago? What inspired their journey, giving them the grim courage to attempt a landing, to confront well-armed, monstrous evil, bunkered down in reinforced concrete, with little more than a prayer to protect them?
They were not fools: any more than those fourteen who went into the flames at Meaux, singing without tongues. Any more than Jeanne d’Arc whose faith liberated her country, and cost her her life. These were men and women who were willing to lose their lives in the service of a cause greater than themselves, whose passion built cathedrals of courage in the sands of Normandy.
Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, we can say that they died for all the wrong reasons: that they were victims of politics and propaganda; that their deaths were not so much noble as tragic. We can claim that we have learned the lessons of history, and that we no longer require people to make ‘the ultimate sacrifice’. We can disarm their courage, and douse the flames of their ardor, and feel coolly superior.
By the grace of God, we are not called to face bullets, or the flames. In some ways, the burden we are asked to bear is so much lighter, the yoke is so much easier. And even so, we find it so difficult to kindle even the little courage we need. May God grant to us who have walked this pilgrim way, some little faith; may we hear in the stories of martyrs and victims, of soldiers and saints, some echo of Jesus’ voice, speaking even now, to us; may the breezes of the Spirit blow in our lives, caressing a spark into a flame that may yet transform this world.