From one who is about to go “over the top”.

British troops in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme
British troops in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme.Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

We Australians celebrated ANZAC day last month. This day has been set aside to remember the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on April 25th, 1914 in an attempt to free the Dardanelles passage from Turkish control. It was a vicious battle that went on for 8 months and in the end failed to achieve its objective. Thousands of soldiers on both sides died for no apparent reason.

This really was the pattern for much of World War I. Thousands of troops dying for a few metres of territory, only to be back right where they started twelve months before. As a young man in the trenches in those days, I could believe that they would have understood the futility of it very quickly.

Recently, I have been reflecting on how I would have reacted had I been one of those young men in the trenches. What I could have thought, just minutes before the whistle was blown to signal the charge into no-mans land. I would have thought, “there is so much lead flying around up there that there is a significant chance that some of it will hit me. That’s if shrapnel doesn’t get me first!!” Even if I did make through that first charge into no-mans land and then into the enemy trenches, I would then be engaged in vicious hand-to-hand combat with bayonets. Again, a major chance of not being able to avoid all that flashing steel flying around.

Yet some did make it. Many didn’t, but many did. What chance would I have had?

I sometimes think that it would have been easier, in those minutes before we went “over the top”, to consider myself as one who is already “dead”. If I survive, that’s a bonus. If I survive, maybe I was meant to? Really, all I can do is entrust myself to providence and accept the fact that if I get killed, well that was my time to go anyway. Hopefully, I got to Confession first.

What is the point on reflecting on the probability of not surviving an offensive in trench warfare? Well, on a vastly different scale, my wife and I are facing a decision with significant ramifications. Not in terms of potential death, but impacts nevertheless. It’s like we are those soldiers milling about in the trenches, smoking that last cigarette just before the whistle blows.

So, do I count myself as “already dead” (venture failed – money gone). And if we succeed, well that was God’s intention in the first place – and a bonus. Even if it does fail, maybe God allowed that in order to achieve some other greater good. Whatever happens “He knows what He is about”. So, regardless of what happens, my wife and I have decided that when “the whistle blows” we will go “over the top”. Please pray that all that lead flying around up there doesn’t hit us.

[Sidenote: Fr Barron’s homily for last Sunday has its theme, the idea of the “theodrama” as opposed to the “egodrama”. That is, the great truth of God choosing us, not us choosing Him. Of God “chasing” us, not us “chasing” Him. And when we learn to surrender to the mission that He has for us (and everyone has a mission from God) we are in the “theodrama”: a far more exciting and fulfilling, and ultimately happier road than any pathetic “egodrama” we can come up with ourselves.]

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