My grandfather died in World War II. He volunteered and then once his term was up, volunteered again. He went AWOL (with his sergeant’s tacit permission) before his final deployment, to see his newborn son for a few short hours. I heard that he thought he would not come back from that tour of duty. Yet he fought anyway because he believed it was right to resist Hitler and his influence. The cause was worth fighting and dying for. My grandmother was widowed when she had three sons aged one, three, and five and raised them into good men despite considerable hardship. I can still remember the look on her face and the tone of her voice when she recalled her husband fighting in the war. She honoured his commitment, even though it cost her so much. Around Remembrance Day we always quote the Lord’s words about love: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) There is no greater sacrifice because the desire for self-preservation is our strongest natural instinct, the hardest to overcome. So we rightly honour the devotion that was willing to risk so much for a cause, and especially when someone voluntarily takes that risk. The Lord’s words about laying down one’s life were followed with His own commitment to us: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” The Lord calls us friends and if we follow Him we become in truth a friend, someone who can benefit from the fact that He laid down His life. The Lord’s sacrifice was so much greater than anyone else’s because He not only experienced the pain of crucifixion - a terrible death, but He also experienced rejection by all who had followed Him and attacks by all of the hells at once. Eventually even the angels could not stand to see Him suffer so much and urged Him to give up on the human race.
The Lord persevered because of His love for us and, on Remembrance Day, we honour smaller human versions of this same commitment - the ways that others have dedicated themselves to our peace and safety. All of us also face opportunities to lay down our lives for our friends when we do what is right and loving, despite strong desires to do the opposite. The original Greek says “Greater love has no one... than to lay down his soul.” When we choose to act with integrity, despite not feeling like doing so, it can feel like we are laying down our soul for those around us. Soul in the inner meaning of the Word means our spiritual life (Arcana Caelestia 9050:1) or our understanding of the truth (Arcana Caelestia 9050:2-5). When we lay those down for someone else, we are willing to change ourselves or reconsider our understanding of the truth for the sake of others. We can give no greater gift. I have never experienced war, in part because my grandfather and millions of others fought and died. My grandfather gave up watching his sons grow to be fine men; my grandmother lost a companion and a support and suffered for that. We are heirs to the peace they stood for. In the years after the war, Remembrance Day would have had incredible meaning because everyone in the country would have known someone who died. Yet today, when we have so much more peace, we can if we are willing consider the present peace which we’ve experienced for most of our lives and give thanks that those who went before made it possible. Then we in turn, by our actions, can do our best to make sure that those who follow us will have more opportunity for peace and joy than we have even today. This is the greatest love.