Lest We Forget
On Memorial Day, we pray for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect freedom in our nation and in other parts of our world. We may hear it said as a way of remembering, “All gave some, Some gave all.”
And perhaps in our current world, we need to pray also for those who do not understand the meaning of Memorial Day. For without knowing, none of us would cherish the freedom others earned on our behalf.
Memorial Day each year is set aside to honor specifically those in the military who were killed in battle or as a result from wounds from battle. Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans’ Day, the day in November the United States sets aside to recognize all veterans, not just those killed in war, but those veterans both living and deceased. We can help our friends and neighbors learn more about Memorial Day through the many resources available online or by talking with families impacted by the loss of someone in service to our country.
Scripture teaches us of the corporal works of mercy, one of which is “burying the dead”. That includes not just the act of burial, but the respect we give to how we care for the sacred grounds in which our loved ones are buried. Cemeteries are consecrated grounds and we must remember this. “Burying the dead” also includes the ways we can remember the deceased through prayer, and the respect associated and deserved for those who have passed and their families. These teachings make Memorial Day even more notable for Christians.
It is difficult to have a concept of the number of lives lost in all wars involving Americans. According to government statistics, estimates are 498,332 (Civil War), 405,399 (World War II), and 90,220 (Vietnam) not to count all conflicts, declared or undeclared which bring the total into the millions.
And while we have the ability to visit our local cemeteries and get a visual picture of the flag grave markers (of all veterans), or see the marble tombstones at Arlington National cemetery, many still do not know that fallen heroes of war are resting on foreign soil, near to the places they gave their lives. There are actually 26 permanent American military cemeteries in 17 countries where Americans are buried, all pristinely maintained by ABMC, an agency established by Congress in 1923. Normandy is the most publically recognized, but there are others. These include places such as Margraten, NL where our own former parishioners are buried – a site where the people have adopted their graves, bring flowers and have elaborate ceremonies to celebrate the freedom won for them.
Today, we see war in other countries such as Ukraine; people who understand loss of freedom; of oppression by those who define freedom in their own selfish way. But in reality, the world is never without the threat of war, or the fragile threats to freedom. And while we may be celebrating, others elsewhere still live in terror, forced labor, concentration camps and prisons, and in suppression of their religious rights.
As generations come and go, as the world evolves and we find ourselves praising our achievements, we do well to stop for a moment. Our first thought is thanksgiving to God for our freedom, free will, and the many graces and abilities he bestows upon us, of which we can do nothing on our own. How fortunate we are. In turn, we remember those who gave all to preserve the freedom we still have. Inspite of differences and threats, we give thanks as people of faith that our religious liberties still are protected in the principles written by our nation’s founders.
The core significance of this solemn holiday is truly the value we place on the price of freedom. Unfortunately, when we are not personally involved in something — when it hasn’t touched our own lives — we often fail to see the relevance. But history does not need to be personal to be relevant. History affects us all.
Our vulnerability is when we unintentionally slip into complacency. Or when we allow other priorities to shift our focus. This can happen in all areas of our lives. We become less when we fail to be moved to compassion.
We pray that we never allow this to happen, of seeing Memorial Day as just for picnics or the start of summer. It is never that for the families whose lives have been indelibly marked tragically through war.
Though Memorial Day is a government holiday, it is essential to us as Christians. Without those who gave their lives and continue to do so in military service, we would not be free to attend any places of worship those before us have built. As Christians and as Catholics we are grateful in this. It was not always this way for our ancestors. In practice, at each Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy we hear the prayers of petition chanted for “our government and for all in the service of our country”. In this prayer we remember everyone — generations past, present and future. We pray for wise leadership and the welfare of all in our country.
This is why on Memorial Day weekend it is fitting in our places of worship and churches to include some form of recognition of this holiday, whether in word or song, prayer or practice. It is fitting to do so in respect of the past members of our individual parishes. Let us embrace the opportunity to proudly sing God Bless America. We are blessed by God to have this great privilege to openly worship in freedom. Let us remember those who earned for us everything we can enjoy today. And let us pray that God will guide the hearts of all leaders on the path of Truth. And to put an end to war in all places on our planet.
God Bless America
See also: Our Fallen Heroes
Above photo: A section of the Moving Wall Memorial honoring the 58,315 men and women who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. This “Wall that Heals” came to Swoyersville, Pa. June 2017. The town is the location of our sister parish, St. Nicholas Church.