Memorial Day

Today’s readings.

One of the effects of a presidential election year for me, is taking a long hard look at who we hold up as our leaders or our heroes.  In some ways, a presidential election is an emergence of whoever is the least objectionable candidate, because in this day and age, it’s hard to get good people to run for office.  And who could blame them?  It’s so hard for candidates to deal with all that public scrutiny, the months of campaigning, the financial outlay.  It seems sometimes that those willing to go through all of that aren’t exactly the cream of the crop.  But apply that to any other field of interest.  What about our sports heroes, or entertainers?  How many of them turn out to be flawed in many ways?  The people we want to hold up as heroes are very often not very heroic.

But today is a day to celebrate true heroes. 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.  So today we remember those men and women who have given their lives for peace, justice, and righteousness.  These have been people who have given everything, have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.   Just as Jesus in our Gospel today encourages us all to give everything for the Gospel, these people are true heroes because of their ultimate sacrifice.

On this day, I think it would be a mistake to glorify warfare.  I don’t think that is the best way to honor the memories of those who have fallen in war.  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.  But we have to acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice.  Today we honor their memory with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we probably wouldn’t be free to worship today.

Our heroes should always include those who have given their lives for justice, righteousness, and the faith.  Today, we might call to mind the great martyrs of the Church, those who have shed their own blood that we might have the Gospel.  Perhaps they inspired those who have given their lives in service to our country.

Today we pray for those who have been part of our lives, part of the life of our Church, and the life of our country.  These are the ones who have been people of faith and integrity and are true heroes that God has given us.  These are the ones who have laid down their lives for what is right.  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.

Homily for Independence Day: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Famously begins the Declaration of Independence, signed by representatives of the American colonies on July 4, 1776.  Sometimes, I think, it seems we have strayed pretty far from the ideals found in this wonderful document.  Just that first sentence says a lot about who our forefathers wanted us to be: it acknowledges the Creator God who gives people a dignity and rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  These rights must still be vigorously defended today.

The right to life seems like a no-brainer.  But as our society has become more complex, the right to life has been somewhat blurred.  When does life begin?  What lives need to be protected?  The Church, of course, calls for a vigorous defense of life at every stage from conception to natural death.  That means abortion is wrong, embryonic stem-cell research is wrong, euthanasia is wrong.  These convictions make for difficult conversations, but life is and always will be a basic human right.

The right to liberty is similarly blurred in today’s society.  Nobody wants anything to infringe on their freedoms.  And nothing should.  But being free people doesn’t mean that we’re free to do whatever we want.  Our freedom cannot, for example, impinge on the freedom of another person.  Our freedom cannot allow us to harm another person.  Saint Paul says that “for freedom, Christ has set us free.”  Our freedom has a purpose, and that purpose is that we can then freely choose Christ, freely choose God, freely choose love.  None of that happens in a coerced way.  Freely choosing God means that we must be willing to freely choose all that that choice entails, without threat of harm from another.

And finally there is the pursuit of happiness.  We Christians believe that happiness will never be perfectly obtained in this life.  We long for the happiness of the kingdom of God, that place we were made for in the first place.  We have the right to pursue reasonable happiness in this life, and we have a right to exercise the means to pursue the most excellent happiness of the world to come.

We Catholics teach that with all these rights come responsibilities.  We have a responsibility to protect the rights of others, to keep our nation from harm, to work for lasting peace in the world.  Toward that end, we are mindful and grateful of the work so many have done to secure our rights and freedoms, both those who have gone before us and those still fighting wars today.  In our prayer, we long for the day when war will be no more, and the peace that is the presence of Christ will rule over a world still in need of the perfection of life, liberty and happiness.

In the last line of the Declaration, our forefathers pledged themselves to the great task of building a nation based on these inalienable rights: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  May we always make the same pledge that our nation may always be great.