What is Honor? Today, I Felt its Weight

091814-AThis morning, I celebrated one of the most remarkable funerals of my 25 years as a priest. With the body present, I sang a Requiem Mass for a man who died ten years before I was born.

On January 1, 1951, Private First Class Arthur Richardson of A Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division went north with his platoon into what is now North Korea. The platoon was overtaken by a much larger group of North Korean soldiers and he was taken prisoner. This was the last that was heard of Pfc. Arthur Richardson. It was reported to his wife later that month that he was missing in action. In 1954, he was declared Killed in Action, though his body was not recovered and no definitive word had been received about him. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

It now seems certain that he died in or near a Prisoner of War camp in Suan since his remains were returned by North Korea in 1994, along with those of as many as 800 other soldiers from that region. After years of painstaking work, the U.S. Army was recently able to definitively identify his remains using DNA evidence, and informed his family.

The family asked me if I would offer the old Latin Requiem Mass for him since this was the only form of the Mass he had ever known. And so this morning I had the great privilege of celebrating a Missa Cantata Requiem Mass. (Pictures online here: Requiem)

091814-BThe burial that followed at Arlington was with full military honors.

(See left – click to enlarge)  Horses pulled the caisson that bore the body of Pfc Richardson and all were saddled, but the horses on the left had riders while those on the right did not. Also in the procession was a marching band, a group of about a dozen riflemen, a bugler, and the honor guard. It was a very moving sight. The band played “Soul of My Savior,” “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” “God of Our Fathers,” and “America.”
What is honor? The full etymology of the word is debated. But what seems most likely is that it comes from the Latin word honos, which, though translated as “honor,” also points to the word “onus,” which means “weight” or refers to something that is heavy. Hence, to “honor” someone is to appreciate the weight, significance, or burden of something he has done. It is to acknowledge that he carried a great burden well, that he withstood a heavy load, that what he did was weighty, significant.
Our soldiers, police officers, and first responders are deserving of our honor, for they put their lives on the line so that others can live, be more free, and experience abundance. None of us can fail to appreciate the burdensome weight that many carry so that we can live well, freely, and comfortably. Freedom is not free; it is costly. Jesus says, Greater love has no man than he would lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13).
War remains controversial (as it should). But soldiers do not create the politics they are sent to address. They are simply told that there is a danger to be addressed, an injustice to be ended, and so they go. Private First Class Arthur Richardson went north during the Korean War. He did not return to us. But he carried well the great weight of being a solider. He also carried the weight of collective human sinfulness (which is what brings war) and felt its burden keenly. He gave his life.
Today it was a privilege for me to render honor and prayers for his sacrifice. I did so not only as a priest, but also as a citizen of the United States. Today, both Church and State gave due honor to our brother. We recognized the honos, the onus, the weightiness of his sacrifice and the burden he carried. We rendered thanks to him and buried him at last in a place of great honor, where the weight of human struggle and honor is visible in the 400,000 white tombstones standing like silent sentinels whispering, “Honor, honor to those who have carried the burden of our struggles.”
Honorable Private First Class Arthur Richardson (Bronze Star and Purple Heart awardee), rest in peace.

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,
Eternal light,
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

21 Replies to “What is Honor? Today, I Felt its Weight”

  1. Thank you father for this awesome recognition for our fallen brother in arms. It is with “honor” I am proud to call him my brother, and a fellow Catholic.
    Kevin McGonigle
    Hilliard, Florida

  2. Soldiers have a special place in the heart of GOD. Just read the scriptures. They are a picture of St. Michael, the Archangel and each of the angels who fought the fallen ones. I just watched the movie Defiance which was based on the lives of the Bielski brothers and Jews who fought against the Nazi in Russia Belarus. They will have a special place in Heaven. Rest in peace soldiers of GOD. You fought a good fight in the eyes of the LORD, win or lose here on earth. YHWH SHALOM!

  3. I too thank you Father for honouring the wishes of the family to farewell their father, grandfather, brother and husband with the Mass of his youth. May eternal light shine upon him.

  4. Last Monday we attended an old Latin Requiem Mass, a stunning and impressive funeral. My husband and I are requesting the same in our directives. Thank you Msgr. for sharing the story and photos.

    1. Mrs. Cory — How smart to write that request down! The traditional Latin Requiem High Mass is easily the most beautiful send-off possible on earth. I’ve known some people (even a priest) who failed to write these specific requests down before dying, with their contemporary funerals (and even cremations!) clearly contrary to their preferences. Always make it detailed and official, and known to family and friends before it’s too late.

      What a wonderful act of charity this Requiem Mass was, with, I’m sure, a lot of planning involved. Thank you, Monsignor Pope, and all who assisted, to give this soldier a funeral that would be recognized not only by fellow mid-20th century infantrymen, but by most of the saints.

  5. As an old War Horse of nineteen years, who served six of them in the United States Air Force, with one in Vietnam, and thirteen in the U.S. Army National Guard, as a Staff Sergeant. I thank you, Msgr. Pope, for rendering such a beautiful service to my fallen brother. May God Bless and Keep You safely by His side.
    Doug Bishop
    Nampa, Idaho

  6. I know your hand is guided by the Lord, I can see it in what you write. God Bless you and may He always continue to dwell in the temple of the Lord that is yourself.

    “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”
    ― Mother Teresa

  7. As a former Marine chaplain, I always offer a final salute to the fallen comrade – from any service – as they are carried out of the church. I find it very moving, and I usually get a thank you from the family for that as well.

  8. Thank you Father for the beautiful service and honor that you have rendered to a fallen American, a brother in arms. All men and women that have served in the defense of our country, whether in time of peace or conflict, are acutely aware that we could have been called to make the same sacrifice. We the living have the weighty responsibility of insuring that our citizens never forget the price that others have paid for our freedom. I can think of no greater way of honoring PFC Richardson than our holy liturgy. Thank you.
    Denny Scherger
    Whitehouse, OH

  9. My dad served in WW II and after celebrating 66 yrs of marriage passed at the age of 95 1/2 a few months ago. I was a vietman era veteran and 4 months (hopefully) from ordination into the permanent diaconate. What a beautiful honor you had, I would have loved to have been in attendance at the mass. God Bless and thank you for being a faithful and loving servant of Christ.

  10. Thank you father – and all those in uniform who take the trouble to ensure that the fallen are “brought home” and rememnbered

  11. Thank Monsignor for sharing this with us. As a veteran, a citizen and a Catholic, I am grateful for the service you performed and the honor this POW was paid. It is particularly moving that today is POW/MIA day. May he rest in peace and may God bless you.
    Dennis Neylon
    PO1 USN

  12. Monsignor:
    I clicked through expecting a different type of column. I TOTALLY AGREE WITH WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN. Under normal circumstances I find the concept of honor merely a cover for pride. I would be interested in reading your thoughts sometime on the way honor is often used: my personal honor, the honor of my family, I must restore my honor (usually by killing someone), defending my honor, defending God’s honor, the honor of my good name, etc. It would seem that if we wished to improve the possibility of world peace the best thing we could do is abolish the concept of honor.

    1. Those are simply misuses of the term. Honor is a real and good thing and it doesn’t lose its goodness just because somebody tries to pass off a counterfeit (pride, etc) as the real thing. It isn’t the only virtue that people do that with. Think of justice and how many evils are committed in the name of “justice.” Does that make the concept of justice something to be abolished?

      Hardly! In fact it means that we need to draw even more attention to the concept of justice and help people to think about the difference between true justice and false counterfeits – and when push comes to shove stand up for true justice at personal cost to ourselves when the occasion calls for it. The same with honor.

      We should be willing to talk about honor as a good thing, use the word in the right sense (as Monsignor has done here), take opportunities to help others to think about the difference between true and false honor – when the occasion calls for it, by all means specifically call out false honor as false! But be ready to contrast that with a great example / definition of true honor, to give people something to have as an inspiration in their mind. (Don’t just say “that’s false” and stop, leaving a vaccuum, say “and this is true” giving them the good concept to replace the flawed one.) Like Monsignor Pope did here 🙂 (I mean he gave an example of true honor, not that he specifically called out the false) Most importantly, we should put our money where our mouth is by living our own lives honorably.

  13. Welcome to the world of the military and their families.
    We live Duty, Honor, and Country.
    God is our foundation.
    We are unsung, but we have codes of Honor.
    You saw and were part of one that has not been corrupted by the politically correct.
    Please pray for us and our beloved Nation.

  14. This reminded me of David Wilcox’s “Let them in, Peter”. Can’t find it to provide a link. Sorry.

    Both are beautiful and moving.

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