Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Courage and Honour

My wife and I saw the movie Blind Side yesterday, and loved it and recommend it highly. In the movie, Michael Oher, the hero and now an NFL rookie starter with the Baltimore Ravens had to write an essay on The Charge of the Light Brigade in high school, and wrote about Courage and Honour.

The Tennyson poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade is based on a real battle that occurred during the Crimean War. In reality, and in the poem, over 600 light cavalry attacked a heavily fortified and defended position of the Russian military, in an impossible situation, and suffered the consequences of that action, resulting in casualties numbering approximately 300, of which over 150 were deaths.

Courage, by definition is a quality of spirit that enables one to face danger or pain without showing fear. So, in the case of the incident of the poem, the British soldiers of the Light Brigade showed courage in attacking a force that they could not logically defeat. But courage is not sufficient of itself to undertake the seemingly impossible, particularly when facing the possibility of death or dismemberment.

So, that is where honour comes in. Honour is defined as honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions. Hence, we have over 600 soldiers riding to possible death over honour. It is honour that kept them together in the charge, when their courage nudged them into it, even though their orders were faulty.

Why do I bring this up? Well, being a member of The Roman Catholic Church is much like being a soldier in the Light Brigade often, or so it may seem. If you will stand for your Catholic Faith, many will try to knock you down, to assail that which you value and to twist it to an evil purpose.

It takes courage to stand against adversity, to remain at one with the Church, to fight the good fight. But courage without honour is in fact, not very courageous.

Recently, some who claim to be good Catholics, have chosen to take aim at a number of Catholic institutions. In particular I am referring to attack pieces written in two blogs about St. Joseph's Hospital and the work of ethicist Fr. Michael Prieur, and as recently as yesterday a further attack in one blog against Save a Family Plan, and members of its board of directors, including Bishop elect Fr.McGrattan. St. Joseph's Hospital is a highly regarded teaching hospital in London, Ontario and Save A Family Plan is a charity that brings aid to people in need, primarily in India, and is run from offices provided to it by St. Peter's Seminary, also in London.

These attacks were launched on the basis of a series of articles that appeared in another Catholic news site, at the beginning of 2009. Both Father Tim Moyle of Where the Rubber Hits the Road and I have significant knowledge of the persons involved at St. Joseph's Hospital and also at Save a Family Plan, and hold them in high regard, not because we like them, but largely out of honour; honour for the positions of authority that they hold, and honour for the trustworthiness that they have displayed in their ministries over many, many years.

It takes courage to see something wrong, either in the Church or outside it and to speak up. It takes greater courage to then dig for the truth. But, it takes honour to follow the biblical admonition of 1 Timothy 2:1-2 "1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."

When courage gives way to assumption, so that being right is more important than finding out the truth, it is no longer courage, but arrogance, masked in self righteousness. I have personally been guilty of this so often myself, that I know it well, and detest it in myself.

After Vatican II, the Catholic Church stopped being so much like an army, which is both good news and bad news. We, its adherents, have been called to form and use our consciences to do good, and avoid evil, in pursuance of natural law, the law of nature as God defined it for us. Though we are the members of God's flock, we are not to behave as sheep, but as friends of He who bled and died for us, and then was raised up.

But, though we are less rigid in our outlook, we must even more develop Courage and Honour as spiritual gifts, and use them in conjunction with each other for the betterment of the kingdom. As the epistle of James says in Chapter 2:17 "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead," we are called to action by our faith, and part of the action in us is to challenge things that appear to us to be wrong, seeking out the truth, which takes courage. But courage without honour is like faith without works, valueless.

God has given us every leader that we have in our society, whether we like them or their principles and policies or not. We are called to lift them up to God in prayer, giving thanks for them, and praying that they will do God's will in their charge.

Who of us truly knows the mind of another? Who of us can honestly say that we know what has gone through a person's mind in 20, 30, 40 years of priestly ministry? In courts of criminal law, those responsible generally follow chains of evidence and rules that are meant to provide for a proper trial of those charged with an offence. In the court of public opinion, particularly with the speed of movement of the information highway, those norms all too often fall by the wayside. Bloggers and those who seek out information, and then disseminate it, have a duty to present truth, for they will be held accountable in a higher court than any in the land for how they have done so.

So, I call us all to Honour in our efforts. Let us honour those in authority, not by failing to challenge them, but by following the words of Ephesians 4:29 - 32 where it says:
29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
I urge you brothers and sisters, as I urge myself to heed these words, and to bring peace within the Church, not by ignoring what we think is wrong, but by using this gift of the internet that we have to really find out the whole truth, and then to present it in love, not in anger and condemnation, for those latter two are tools of the enemy. Let us not serve the enemy, but our Saviour.

I leave you with the original Tennyson poem that was the inspiration for this article:
The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army,
while All the world wonder'd.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not,
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Alfred Lord Tennyson

1 comment:

Fr. Tim Moyle said...

Bravo! Well said.
Thank you.
Fr. Tim Moyle