Memorial Day originally began in our country as an occasion to remember and decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War. Later it became a holiday to commemorate all those who had died in war in the service of our country. This continues to be the main focus of Memorial Day, but I think this day has also become a day of remembering what we are about as a nation, and what it is that we have thought appropriate to live and die for. Today is above all a time to remember; that is what brings us to our parish’s cemetery today.
One of the aspects of human nature is that we tend to look for heroes. People we can look up to, who have buoyed our spirits in difficult times, who have turned our attention to the best parts of our humanity. These are the people we wish to emulate, the people who bring us hope in a darkened world. These heroes may be our loved ones or people in our communities who have done great things. People who have sacrificed for the good of others.
On this day we especially look to those who have been heroes in war. People who have given their lives for peace, justice, and righteousness. The beatitudes that we just heard in the Gospel proclaim them blessed: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. We have heard these before, but it’s so important that we hear that these people are blessed, these people are true heroes because of what they sacrifice and stand for and fight for.
I want to be careful not to glorify warfare. I think our Church’s teachings counsel that war is not the way to peace and that developed societies like ours can and must use our resources to seek other ways to solve problems. And I think that very many war heroes would give us a similar caution. But I certainly acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on good people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice. As John F. Kennedy once said, “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.” Today we honor the memory of those who have paid the price with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we might not enjoy the blessings we have today.
Those who have been part of our lives, and the life of our country, who have been people of faith and integrity are the heroes that God has given us. These are the ones who have been poor in spirit, who have mourned, who have been meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, peacemaking, and all the rest. If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.