Honoring our Fallen Service Members
Memorial Day weekend is thought of as the “first weekend of summer,” but it is also so much more. Here in and around the nation’s capital, we have many particular reminders of why the day was founded. For example, Arlington National Cemetery and memorials on the National Mall are destinations for many Americans to remember and pray for those who gave their lives – including lost loved ones – in military action so that others might live in security and freedom.
What we know as Memorial Day began after the Civil War as a day to remember those who died in battle, who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for the good of the country. It was in 1971 that this day became a national holiday.
Precisely as Christians, Memorial Day ought to have a special place on our calendars too, just as does All Souls Day in November. Visiting memorials, laying wreaths and praying at grave sites are deeply Christian practices. It is an act of fidelity and of hope to pray that those who have died will be welcomed by our Lord into everlasting life. Praying for those who have given their lives in service to our country is also a reminder of the sacrificial nature of Christian love. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” is the ultimate expression of love as expressed by Jesus Christ in teaching and in example (John 15:13).
War is always a tragedy. As we acknowledge that sometimes defensive war is a just response to protect human life from grave evils, honoring our fallen service members is also a cause for reflecting on the responsibility we share to strive for the common good and the pursuit of peace everywhere (CCC 2263-65, 2302-17). Today the whole human family constitutes an important single society which must be the concern of all nations. We dare not ignore or be silent about those in other lands suffering from the agonies of war thinking that it has nothing to do with us. War is not just a national crisis, it is a human crisis.
Peace is so great a gift, and war is so great an evil, that every effort must be made in pursuit of peace. Such a commitment helps to explain why so many good men and women serve in the military – to bring and keep the peace.
This Memorial Day, in addition to prayers of remembrance, intercession and thanksgiving, we can also honor our dead by our commitment to bring the light of peace and truth, hope and justice to all parts of our lives and communities.