Memorial Day

Today’s readings: James 3:13-18; Psalm 72; Matthew 5:38-48

I was talking to one of our parishioners today who is on a local board that, among other things, hires police officers for their municipality. He was telling me how hard it is to find qualified people willing to serve these days. I wasn’t surprised to hear it. I’ve read a lot over the last several years about how people are not going into service-related professions any more. The priesthood is, of course, no stranger to that phenomenon.

So maybe it’s a little ironic that we spend today honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country. It’s a little like we’re saying “thanks for doing that, but please don’t ask me to serve.” And our Lord would admonish us for that kind of societal attitude; he didn’t give us the Gospel so that we could do nothing about it.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the famous “but I say to you” sayings of Jesus. He takes very familiar religious practices of his day, and then cranks them up a notch. Believers are not supposed to be on autopilot; we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of others. If we’re asked to give, we have to do it expecting nothing in return. When we love, we are called to do it when it is completely inconvenient, and toward those who we might not prefer to love.

Service is not optional for the Christian disciple. Laying down our lives is simply doing what our Lord has shown us how to do. If he could die on the cross for us, we can die to ourselves and give our lives in service to others, so they might know God’s love and mercy.

We truly honor today those who have given their lives for our country. Without their sacrifice, we might not have the freedoms we enjoy today. If we would truly honor their service and their selflessness, then we have to set aside our selfish ambitions as Saint James encourages us in our first reading. To truly honor our fallen heroes, we have to make use of the freedom that they fought for in a way that frees others as well.

Most of all, we have to work to change the attitude of our society. We have to earnestly set aside selfish ambition and entitlement or become a society that is not truly free. If we’re slaves to ambition, then we will accomplish little individually or as a society. We have to pray for religious vocations and also vocations of service to our country and community. We have to encourage our children and grandchildren to give of themselves in their profession. That is what will make us truly free.

And that is what would honor our fallen service men and women most of all.