Monday, May 30, 2011
Memorial Day 2011
Some of the holiest men who ever lived and some of the Church's greatest saints were soldiers.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola who founded the Jesuit order served many years as a soldier in Spain. Even Saint Francis who is best known for his love of nature and animals served for a short time in the army of his native land.
At every Mass, before communion, we repeat the words which a Roman soldier once spoke to Jesus: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed." Jesus said of this soldier that he had never met anyone with such great faith.
Those of us who have been blessed to know soldiers or been soldiers ourselves can understand how they can be such holy men. They are dedicated to serving others. They are willing to set aside their own plans for the future to protect the freedoms of their country. They have a strong sense of duty toward the weak and vulnerable. They come face-to-face with all types of horrors and yet continue to believe that the world is good. But most importantly, like Jesus, they are willing to lay down their lives for their sisters and brothers.
Many of those who have given their lives for our country are just such men and women.
Many families in our country gather under the most tragic of circumstances today. They commemorate young lives that have ended. A conflict on the other side of the globe has touched many of us and robbed us of women and men who had so much to give. They gave their all to serve and protect us. We set aside one day to celebrate their life, to honor their service and to grieve their death.
Many will gather in churches to add an even deeper meaning to this day. They will invoke the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. They will recall the day when the soldiers they have lost were baptized and put on the armor of Christ. They will remember that there is a greater purpose to our lives than that which this world can offer. During this life, we are merely passing through. Our real homeland is in heaven. It is there that the meaning of our lives is revealed. It is there that we receive the reward for doing battle with evil. It is there that all suffering will finally cease and every tear will be wiped away. By that hope in the ultimate, all-encompassing and definitive victory of Jesus, we find the courage to face every sort of evil, but especially the great evil called "Death".
Those who have known and loved soldiers have endured a lot. While they were away, they endured the pain of separation. They feared for their loved ones every day and begged God to keep them safe. Now they bear a grief that is beyond words. The family and friends of soldiers have also had to sacrifice for their country. The stories of the families of fallen soldiers are not frequently told. We do not raise monuments to the wives, children, fathers or mothers of our heroes. But it is their courage that made those sacrifices and in turn our freedom possible.
We take a day to remember those whose service to their country has now ended. They are at rest receiving the reward of their labors. We must continue to live and carry their memory with a mixture of grief and pride. It is our faith above all else which gives us the strength and the courage to bear grief. Jesus knew what it was to die young for a cause he believed in - our salvation. He knew what it meant to lay down his life for others. No one has ever done it with as much love and courage as Jesus did. More than anyone else, he knows the suffering which so may in our country are unable to put into words. And he is at their side helping them to shoulder it.
Also by our side is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She witnessed her own son's cruel death at the hands of evil men. She is praying for those who has lost loved ones to war. They can draw comfort from her motherly care.
We will never know during this life why the world is full of so much evil, why there is so much hate, and why there is so much conflict and war. But the death of so many young people, as sad and tragic as it is, reminds us of how much good still is left in this world. It is a world worth fighting and dying for. That men, women and families throughout our country are willing to give of themselves to make the lives of others better is a source of great hope for all of us. We take this day to proclaim that it does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
So many families in our country have had to deal with tremendous loss. Today we show them that they are not alone. We need to lean on one another at times of conflict and war. And we need to pray even if it means shaking our fists at God and asking "Why?!" And we need to hope. There will come a day when all this bloodshed will be put to an end. Everything will be made right again, and we will be reunited with all those we have lost. It is the promise God made to each of us at our baptism. It is the victory Jesus guaranteed for us by giving his own life on Mount Calvary. And it is to that undying hope which we commend the souls of our fighting men and women until we see them again.