AS we approach the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, the thoughts of many will turn to family involvement in that conflict.
My father was too young to fight in 1914 and too old to see combat in 1939.
However, his cousin fought in France and, while still a teenager, was killed in 1916. We have visited his grave at Bernafay near Amiens, a tranquil and beautifully kept cemetery, which contrasts poignantly with the violence that took place in its vicinity for four terrible years.
We also visited the site at Compiègne not far away where the war was brought to an end.
Compiègne gives the visitor food for thought. The armistice between Germany and the victorious allies was signed in a railway carriage there just before it came into effect in 1918.
The French preserved the site as a memorial to the event and as a celebration of their own victory.
But during the Nazi invasion of France, the carriage was removed to Germany and eventually destroyed.
Today the empty tracks where it once stood and a reconstruction of the carriage, some distance from the original site, bear testimony to a peace that failed.
I am old enough to remember VE day.
It was an occasion for bonfires and much rejoicing.
There was a genuine hope that a new world order was about to be ushered in, which would at last guarantee peace and end conflict.
But shortly after 1945, we saw the Iron Curtain come down and the start of the Cold War, which on occasion nearly spilled over into open hostilities.
The Korean War, the Vietnam War and many others have taken a terrible toll in terms of death and human suffering.
For a time, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seemed that humanity’s fate might at last be permanently improving.
But that hope again seems premature with the resurgence of aggressive nationalism and the threat of a renewed arms race.
To some, this perpetual inability of human beings to live in peace with their neighbours, despite the awful lessons of the past, gives rise to despair and a conclusion that the human race is inevitably doomed.
But it is important to remember that human history has been full of blessings as well as misfortunes.
Throughout the most threatening of times there have been people of hope and virtue shining like lights in the darkness.
For the Christian, simply abandoning the world to its fate is not an acceptable option.
Our Lord’s message ‘ Blessed are the peacemakers’ reminds us that war is a curse on humanity brought about by its own sinfulness and it is God’s will that it should end.
And so we once more mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a time for remembering the sacrifices of those who died in past conflicts in the defence of freedom.
But surely this year in particular is also a time for resolving to do all in our power to prevent further wars and to address the causes of human conflict.