Memorial Day, for many, means the beginning of Summer. To others, it is a day off to shop. But, as I am sure you really know Memorial Day is a day to honor those who have died in the service of this country.
The word “memorial” comes from the Latin Memorare which is in an imperative meaning: “Remember!” So, Memorial Day is “Remember! Day.”
When I go to one of our local military cemeteries (and there are many near DC) one of them has a chapel, and near the window looking out on the graves is a sign that reads: “The Price of Freedom is Made Visible here.” Indeed, it is. And while not all the soldiers and their spouses buried there died in war, all of them were willing to do so, whether by losing their own life, or that of their spouse. When I meet someone new and hear, eventually of their military service my instinct is to say at once, “Thank you for your service.”
I have not served in the military but both my brothers did, one a Navy Pilot, the other an Ari Force Intelligence officer.
My father too was a Navy JAG officer. Upon his return from Viet Nam I could tell he had changed somehow. Later I understood when I saw movies he had filmed while there showing the bullet holes in the wall where he and other officers had escaped sniper fire. I heard too of harrowing flights north in the “Huey,” often under fire, to be with the troops up north who had engaged the V.C.
One of our priests here in DC, long before ordination, was infantry in the terrifying jungles of Viet Nam. He return permanently injured, his knee no longer functional. Others too have served more recently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places our troops have deployed. All of them know and can testify, war changes you.
Thus, even those who survived, made many sacrifices and returned with many burdens. Remember, call to mind what they have done. And if you get to go to the shopping center today, or enjoy a nice cookout, or freely travel to the shore, remember those who have helped make this possible.
Yes, this is a day to remember, especially those who did die, who died so that you and I could live with greater security, justice and peace. May these fallen soldiers rest in Peace. Never forget the price others have paid for our freedom. We owe them a debt of gratitude and our prayers.
God bless them all, and may all the dead rest in peace.
The Love of one’s country (Patriotism) is related to the fourth commandment. The Catechism teaches:
It is the duty of citizens to contribute to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. (CCC # 2239)
The Lord himself makes it plain: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13).
Perhaps you might use this video as a way to meditate on the sacrifices they made. Here the text of the song “Mansions of the Lord” and the video follows:
To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord
No more weeping,
No more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just Divine embrace,
In the Mansions of the Lord
Where no mothers cry
And no children weep,
We shall stand and guard
Though the angels sleep,
Oh, through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord
7 Replies to “Memorare! On Memorial Day”
I was fortunate enough to have been given a reprieve when the draft was
ended the year my number was up. More than a few of my older siblings
classmates came home in bodybags from that damn war and those that
walked, were pushed or carried stateside faced being condemned for doing
what was required of them. I was 58, yesterday.
Dad served in WWII. My uncles served similarly. Grandpa served briefly in the
Spanish American war being discharged honorably after nearly dying from a
disease he contracted in the tropical climate where he was stationed.
I spent part of the afternoon at the cemeteries where these men rest, placing
flags and doing whatever was needed to make there headstones/grave
markers presentable. They certainly deserved it.
I miss my father, who passed away in 2004, immensely. His last years were
spent exiled from my children, his grandchildren, due to my divorce. He
suffered much for it, unjustly, but quietly as was his general practice.
I will not forget him, nor his siblings and those who came before them while
my memory persists.
I am relieved he is not here to see the continued precipitous decline in this
country. But, I feel worse for those who follow me, in the broken world
we have dumped in their laps. My sorrow is profound for the brokenness
my children and grandchildren face through the divorce I could not prevent
or heal. It has wounded, terribly, three generations with no repentance
Forgive me, dad. Your son has failed you, but I have not walked away from
my obligations to the grandchildren you loved so much and who love you
still and pray for you, mom and our family. I will be there for them, as you
always were for me and for them, until you died. Please intercede for me.
I love you, Dad.
I love you dad.
That was beautiful Karl.
My family and I spent yesterday afternoon at Arlington, remembering our fallen heroes as well. Since my son became a Marine, it has become important to me to remember his willingness to sacrifice for our country and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. People ask me if we have other Marines in the family or if military service is a family tradition. I tell them no, my dad served in Korea in the U.S. Army but other than that no military legacy to speak of. I believe for many service members, voluntary service is a vocation. God bless all of our Marines and military on Memorial Day and always.
Msgr., you are amazing. Always have the right words with the right video for the occasion. The song & video “Mansions of the Lord” touched my heart. God bless you!
My dad served in WWII and Korea. For some reason, this is the kind of war song that he liked: Clancy Brothers-Patriot Game http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4g5vm2mLb2c
As today we remember and prayer for American soldiers who died in wars, wars that may or may not have defended our country, I think we should also recall some of the civilian casualties in some of those wars, such as Ali Abbas. People can recall him here, in this April 8, 2003, article by Joe Sobran, called Minimizing Civilian Casualties: http://www.sobran.com/columns/2003/030408.shtml .
I certainly offer up my prayers for all those who have fought and died in wars. Coming from a military family, I know the burdens that come with military service, especially combat service. I also know the good will and virtue that motivates many of those who wear our country’s uniform.
Yet… I am deeply disturbed by the uncritical acceptance of American civil religion by American Christians, particularly as it relates to the military. In America, war and the military are honored in a quasi-religious fashion. They are honored with great (temple-like) monuments in our most prominent public places. There are holidays (holy days) set aside to honor our wars and our warriors. We are taught to reverence the flag. In most Catholic/Christian schools, the Pledge of Allegiance follows the morning prayer without a pause, and in most Catholic/Christian churches, the American flag is placed right next to the sanctuary. The language with which we speak of war and military service is filled with words like “sacred”, “sacrifice”, “glory”, and “honor”. Stanley Hauerwas has said that war is America’s liturgy: it is the saving sacrifice that unites us. But as Christians, we believe that the sacrifice that saves us was made on a cross 2,000 years ago, and is re-presented each time we celebrate the Eucharist, the liturgy that truly makes us one. All “glory”, “honor”, and reverence belong to our God. There is deep confusion in the American Church.
Catholics need to recall that Church teaching has always had an antagonistic relationship with war. The early Church fathers consistently condemned Christian participation in war. Even after the development of Just War Theory by St. Augustine, the Church insisted on strict limits on war. In modern times the Church has insisted on even stricter limits given the destructiveness of modern warfare. (This is why the council fathers at Vatican II called for “a completely fresh reappraisal of war,” placing new restrictions on war, and affirming those who choose to renounce all violence.) Catholic teaching does not endorse war to protect the strategic interests of our nation. It does not endorse “preventive” war to eliminate a potential threat. It specifically rejects the policies of targeted assassinations (e.g. by drones) and cruel treatment of prisoners that are staples of current U.S. military policy. And it rejects open-ended war (e.g. the “war on terror”) without clearly defined and achievable objectives that lead toward peace.
Christians have basically two options when it comes to war. They can choose to renounce all violence and refuse to participate in war. Or they can participate only in wars that meet the strict criteria of the Just War Theory. (See the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter “The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace” for a good overview of these two traditions and a clear explanation of the Just War criteria.) Given that most American wars have failed to fulfill these criteria, Catholics need to take a much more critical look at the way we speak about and relate to war. Why is it that most churches offer prayers for our soldiers, but not for the civilians who will die in far greater numbers at the hands of our soldiers. (Even the very lowest estimates of the civilian casualties who have been killed by coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan far outnumber our military casualties.) Why don’t we regularly pray for our enemies in our prayers of the faithful? Jesus specifically commanded us to do so.
Another issue: While those who become complete pacifists may apply to be conscientious objectors and be excused from the rest of their military service, a Catholic member of the military may not legally opt out of a particular war or military assignment that violates Church teaching on just war. (The U.S. does not allow for selective conscientious objection.) Why has this area of great moral hazard, that is anything but hypothetical for many Catholics in the military today, not been mentioned by the bishops in their discussions of religious liberty? Why are Catholics who are legally obligated to obey military orders that violate Church teaching any less of a concern than a healthcare worker who may be legally required to violate Church teaching as part of their job?
There is great confusion among American Christians, including Catholics, on the subject of war. I pray that Catholics begin to carefully study the Church’s doctrines on war and begin to question the sanctification of war that is such a part of American culture.
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