April 14, 2017
REFLECTION - Wilfred Owen, the soldier poet, recognised how the suffering of his men in the First World War matched the stages of Christ’s own passion and death. Four months before he was himself killed in France , Owen was training troops in England and wrote: For 14 hours yesterday I was at work – teaching Christ to lift his cross by numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst till after th e last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no t complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb and stands at attention before all his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha. 1 Equally vivid descriptions are to be found in letters and diaries of the conscientious objectors of the First World War. They did not presume to compare their suffering to that of men in the trenches, and they faced the permanent accusation that they were cowards who had taken the soft option. But as they endured humiliating and brutal punishment, and frequent threats of the death penalty, many were sustained by the example of Chri st. In his cell in Richmond Castle John ‘Bert’ Brocklesby s ke tched an image of Jesus collapsing under the cross, with these words from a hymn: ‘Every cross grows light beneath the shadow Lord of Thine’. 2016 is the centenary of the introduction of conscr iption in the First World War, and with it the first opportunity in law for men to declare their conscientious objection to fighting. However, few applicants were actually given the exemption they requested, which meant that many continued to resist mil itary service and went to prison as a consequence. These extracts describing the experience of the ‘conchies’ are offered as a meditation on the Way of the Cross.