Memorial Day for many means the beginning of summer. To others, it is a day off to go shopping. But as I am sure you know, Memorial Day is really a day to honor those who have died in the service of this country. Here are some thoughts based on two words that arise on a day like this: “memorial” and “monument.”
The word “memorial” comes from the Latin memorare, an imperative that means “Remember!” Therefore, Memorial Day is “Remember!” Day. To remember something is to allow it to be present to our mind and heart so that we are grateful, sober, aware, and different because of it.
This is a day to remember that there are men and women who died so that you and I are able to live with greater security, justice, and peace. May these fallen soldiers rest in peace. We owe them both a debt of gratitude and our prayers.
In a secondary sense, we can also honor today those who currently serve in the military because they also place their lives on the line for our security and peace. On Veterans Day we will have a second opportunity to thank those in the military who are still living.
God bless them all and may the dead rest in peace. We must remember that freedom is not really free—others paid the price for our freedom.
The second word is “monument,” which comes from the Latin words monere (to warn, remind, or advise) and mens (mind). Hence a monument exists to admonish or advise us to remember the dead and/or what they have done. Not only do we owe a debt of gratitude to our fallen soldiers, but we must also hold in our memories all they have done for us.
There are many memorials and some monuments as well honoring our fallen soldiers. Here in Washington, D.C. and in most cities, there are memorials to the soldiers who died during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam. Soon enough there will be monuments to the fallen from the Gulf War and to those who gave their lives in other wars. The Tomb of the Unknowns is a poignant monument to the many fallen who remain unknown to us. And who can forget the deep impression that the rows of white crosses in a military cemetery make?
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 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).
We must never forget the price that others have paid for our freedom. Pray for our fallen soldiers from every generation and for their families.
Here is the text of the song “Mansions of the Lord”:
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
Perhaps you might use the following video as a way to meditate on the sacrifices they have made: