When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England in May of 1940, the situation couldn’t be worse. England was not prepared to face the huge military might that Hitler had been secretly building up illegally over the past several years. And after the miraculous evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk (you may remember the movie from a couple of years ago) and the Nazis had taken France, Churchill now had to wait for the next shoe to drop—the invasion of England. Imagine what that must have felt like, knowing that you aren’t prepared for what is about to happen! So there was a window of time when Churchill had to make a decision. What message would he send out to his people? One of fear and disaster or one of determination and courage? One historian wrote this about Churchill’s actions during this perilous time: “Churchill’s conduct after the fall of France exasperated some skeptics who perceived themselves as clear thinkers. His supreme achievement in 1940 was to…stir the passions of the nation, so that for a season the people faced the world united and exhaled. The “Dunkirk spirit” was not spontaneous. It was created by the rhetoric and bearing of one man. Churchill had said: “if we can get through the next three months, we can get through the next three years.”
For that window of time—those three months—the people had only one thing they could rely on, the inspiring words of their leader. These words helped the British people face what seemed to be an impossible situation.
Why am I going through all of this with you? The dialogue between Peter and Christ in the Gospel made me think of the Churchill story. Jesus says to the Twelve after seeing many people walk away: “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, “Your teaching gives us hope. We believe what you are saying. Despite what’s been happening around us, we are not going to give up our faith. That’s the only thing that’s getting us through right now!”
I think for many of us, we might feel the same way—that our faith is the only thing we have left. We need something to cling to in times of trouble, and that is our faith. But this faith of ours will always challenge us. Today, many people refuse Christ, not because he “puzzles intellect, but because he challenges our lives.”
We want to get ourselves to the point where we are relying on Christ, where we are counting on his word and allowing us to be inspired by it, and encouraged to move forward confident in it.
I’m not saying in any way that Winston Churchill was a messiah. He wasn’t. And he made many mistakes and made bad decisions. But, at this most perilous time, May 1940, he knew that what he said and how he acted would have a profound effect on his nation. He spoke words of inspiration as he was trying to figure out what to do.
We are asked to make Christ the inspiration for our life. Our hearts must rest in Jesus as St Augustine so beautifully prayed: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. To say yes to Jesus is to reach our fulfillment because it is the true meaning of our existence.
“Lord, you have the words of eternal life. To whom shall we go?”