It is fine to say, as I am sure we all do, that war is wrong. Yes, we can say this when we are speaking about war a long way off, as in the Middle East or Ukraine. Yes, we can make grand moral statements about how dreadful it all is, and ask why they cannot stop fighting and killing one another. But it all becomes different if we feel that someone is attacking us. So may I suggest that we need to try to think what we would feel like if an army or terrorists were threatening our homes, our shops, our security! Then I suspect we would feel things in an altogether different way.
I am reading a book at the moment about the history of conflicts in Europe for the last 500 years, and what has struck me most is that war and conflict is usually created not by an actual attack by an enemy, but by the fear that we will be attacked. A decision is then made on these grounds to attack first, before our homes and our lives are devastated by an enemy that appears to be about to descend upon us. So as we remember with sorrow and sadness today the beginning of the 1st World War 100 years ago, we need to remember the fear in the minds of those who were the enemies of Britain then, who thought that Russia from the East or France from the West might encircle and enslave them.
The question then is “What does our Christian faith say about all this?” We know that people on both sides in our European wars of the past have claimed as Christians that God was on their side. You may not know however that when the 1st World War broke out the Pope at the time called, as Pope Francis is doing now on Israel and Palestine, for the war to stop, and for everyone to look for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Then, as now, such appeals from the Pope, and from many other people, appear to have made no difference. Once people are in fear of their lives, all reason seems to go out of the window.
This is all very depressing isn’t it? As are all the present wars and conflicts that we hear reported every day. But what it reminds us very forcibly is that we humans need to be aware of how easily we fail in our relationship to others as soon as we are under any pressure. It also reminds us how easily we blame others rather than ourselves when things go wrong. Jesus told us to love our enemies, and to leave judgement to God, but it isn’t something we find at all easy to do, is it.
This is precisely why the Church stresses our need for God, our need to constantly turn to this power of goodness and love to help us on the hard road of being a good human being. Today our Gospel (Matt 14:13-21) is not just about a few thousand people being given bread to eat. It is actually much more about the fact that God can support us and feed us spiritually if only we will turn to him for help. Our 1st Reading (Isaiah 55:1-3) is on this same theme, as the great prophet Isaiah tries to remind people that God is longing to help them in their desperation. “Oh come to the water all you who are thirsty…. Listen, listen to me… Pay attention, come to me: listen and your soul will live.”
Yes, if we are to overcome our fear of strangers and greet them as friends, if we are to overcome our own anger against those we think of as enemies, then we need constantly to turn to God for help. Work for peace and against war has to start with each one of us. It is no good saying “They” should do something about it, whatever it is. It is no good passing the buck or the blame to someone else and thinking that we are OK. That is not the Christian way.
So here we are at Mass precisely, I hope, because we know of this need to turn to God regularly and to receive his support, his grace, for our journey through life.
Today, amidst all this very challenging stuff about war and violence, both afar and in our own hearts, we need also to hear a word of comfort. So I hope you heard it in our 2nd reading (Romans 8:35-39) Let me remind you. “Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried (And we are!) or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked……. Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord”
May that message be one that we do not just hear on the surface, but hear and receive deep in our hearts, so that we may do our bit to work for peace and love and understanding in our sad and troubled world.
 Brendan Simms : Europe The Struggle for Supremacy 1453 to the Present