Monday of this week is Memorial Day. It is a time to remember all of the men and women who have died defending our nation in its various wars and conflicts. Jesus taught that, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” These men and women have lived out that teaching in a remarkable way.
In addition to remembering the sacrifices that they made, we must pledge ourselves to make sure that we as a nation and as a people are worthy of the sacrifices that they have made. We can do this by remembering that they died for freedom, and they died for justice. We must work to guarantee that the freedom and the rights of every human being in our country is protected and respected. The highest ideals of America must be upheld and promoted. They died for these. We must live for them.
As heroic as the deaths of these brave men and women are, each and every one of them is also a terrible tragedy. Each of them had loved ones—parents, spouses, children, friends—whose hearts and lives were deeply wounded by their loss. Each of them had hopes and dreams for their own lives that would never be fulfilled. In remembering them, in honoring them, and in celebrating them, we also grieve them.
The week after Easter I went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was a bit of a homecoming for me as I attended Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which is just 10 miles from Gettysburg. But while there, I visited the many sites where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought and the acres and acres of cemeteries where soldiers from both the Union and the Confederate side were buried. There are also large monuments honoring those from various states who fought and those who died there.
I have visited the battlegrounds a number of times. This time was a bit different. A friend of mine did a family tree for me a few years ago, and I learned a number of things about my family that I had not known before. One of the more striking pieces of my family story is that my great, great grandfather had fought in the Civil War as part of the Army of Northern Virginia. That was the army of Robert E. Lee. We had no idea that he had fought at Gettysburg. He survived and eventually made his way back home to Mason County, Kentucky, but so many of his compatriots and friends did not.
As I toured the battle fields, I wondered on which of them he had fought. Which battles was he part of? I wondered about his own sense of horror at what he saw and his terrible grief at the loss of his friends. How did he carry the spiritual and emotional wounds, and perhaps physical wounds, from those terrible three days? I never knew him. But now, in a special way, I remember him.
Each of those men and women who died in our nation’s wars were living a story—a story that was cut short by the violence of war. We must remember them, and if possible, remember their stories.
And remembering, we must pray and work to make sure that men and women in our own time and in the future do not have to make the same supreme sacrifices as did those we celebrate on Memorial Day. In 1965 Pope Paul VI came to New York City and spoke to the United Nations. Famously, he said, “No more war. War never again.” Amen.
— Fr. Mike Comer