Rector's Reflections for 8 November

Modern Saints facing Modern Challenges

Over the last few days, I have been writing about various 20th Century Christians who sought to apply the values of the Gospel to some of the most important challenges facing their society. To date,  the examples I have chosen have happened to be men. I am now going to restore the gender balance, and write about some Christian women who many would consider to be modern saints.

Today, I wish to write about Edith Cavell. She was born in Norfolk in 1865, the daughter of a parish priest.  Edith was a committed Christian, and she lived out her commitment to the gospel through the work she chose to do. After having worked as a governess, she trained to be a nurse, and worked in hospitals in Shoreditch, Kings Cross and Manchester. Edith was committed to the proper training of nurses, and she accepted a position in Brussels as Matron in Belgium’s first training hospital and school for nurses.

Following the German invasion of Belgium in 1914,  the school of nursing where Edith worked became a Red Cross hospital, treating casualties from both sides. In due course, Edith became part of a network of people who sheltered Allied soldiers and Belgians eligible for military service, and who arranged for their escape out of Belgium. She was arrested by the German authorities on 5th August 1915, and tried by court martial on 7th October, along with 34 others involved or connected to the network. Edith was found guilty and executed by firing squad on 12th October 1915.  Although Edith’s execution did not constitute a breach of International Law,  there were plenty of those, especially on the Allied side, who saw it as an act of barbarity. After the war, her body was exhumed and re-buried in Norwich Cathedral.  If you are familiar with central London, you may be familiar with the memorial to her memory which was erected next to the National Portrait Gallery.

On the night before her execution, Edith said the following words : “I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”.  These words have become famous – especially the first phrase, “patriotism is not enough”.  Patriotism is, of course, a virtue – but it is not the only virtue. There are times when we can so easily turn Patriotism into an idol, and consider hatred of our enemy to be a virtue. On such occasions, let us remember once again Edith’s wise words :  “patriotism is not enough”.

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