So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ Luke 17.10
If I was to identity the quality most evoked in last night's Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall it would have to be duty. This is no doubt on account of the legacy of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, whose 70 years of service as monarch epitomised the notion of devoting one's life to what and whom one believes in, rather than to one's own comfort or self advancement.
This, of course, flies counter to the contemporary post-modern wind, which panders to the gentle breezes of our own comfort or to the fierce gales of our ambitions and phobias. Yet the roots of our aversion to the notion of duty, especially in its idealised form, goes back at least as far as the 1st World War, when the horrors of global conflict were multiplied by the injection of weapons of increasingly mass and painful destruction. In Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori, Wilfred Owen describes the agony of a soldier dying from gas poisoning, concluding:
"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."
But is the "old lie" duty itself, or the idea that duty is somehow an easy way to glory? My impression is that we have leapt to the conclusion that, in the bitterness of experience, Owen is opting for the former. Perhaps it is time to reconsider. An easy was to glory it certainly is not but, as a means to the fulfilment of our calling by God and our obligations to each other, duty is a necessary and noble motivator.