In Flanders Fields

In Flanders FieldsJohn McCrae was a Canadian physician and professor of medicine. In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, Doctor McCrae was sent to France as a medical officer. During the second battle of Ypres, in the spring of 1915, his medical station was set up at the foot of the bank of the Yser Canal. Soldiers who were wounded rolled down the bank and into the station.

After a seventeen day siege, McCrae sat on the back of an ambulance parked near the small cemetery where many of the casualties were buried, including one that affected him greatly. He was a young friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, for whom McCrae performed the funeral ceremony in that cemetery in the absence of the chaplain.

As he fixed his gaze on that cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe. He vented his anguish in a 15 line poem that he scribbled in his notebook. McCrae later tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but the magazine “Punch” published it on December 8, 1915.

Doctor McCrae’s poem is one that is appropriate for us to reflect on as we remember those who gave their lives in the defense of our nation.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunsets glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders field.

This coming Monday is Memorial Day. The dead now at peace in many Flanders fields around the world challenge us to take up the torch of freedom and justice they fought to keep burning in too many wars. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus challenges us to take up the same torch – to work ceaselessly for compassion, justice and reconciliation.

On Memorial Day, may our prayer be that we not “break faith” with those who rest forever in Flanders fields, that we may bring the peace of God to a desperate, hurting world.

If you are planning to be in Parma Heights on Memorial Day – know that you are welcome to join us in the morning at our 8:30 am Mass. That Mass will be celebrated for the living and deceased Veterans of our parish.

Question – What touched you as your read John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields?” Consider sharing the story of the Veteran you will be remembering in prayer on Memorial Day.

May 21st, 2014 |