Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Honoring the Fallen this Memorial Day

Honoring the Fallen
this Memorial Day

         This Memorial Day was an occasion of good reflection for me.  I have always been patriotic; after all, patriotism, the love of one’s country, is a virtue.  Nationalism, of course, is a vice, but healthy patriotism is a good thing.  Lately, though, I’ve struggled with that, at least at an emotional level, which is a level, I suppose, of no real consequence, I’ll admit.  But still, I have had trouble feeling emotionally attached to my country.  Why the struggle?  It is one I think many Catholics face.
          Americans today live in a country in which our government, at the highest levels, has set itself in direct opposition to our Faith in many ways.  We live in a culture in which thousands of babies are killed every day, legally; marriage is being redefined; and the government goes to court to defend its ability to take away Christians’ freedom of religion – most notably with the HHS mandate.
          America the Beautiful gets harder and harder to sing.  And then comes Memorial Day, an American holiday that in many ways stands apart from all the others.  On Memorial Day we remember the soldiers who fought to defend our freedoms, our ideals, and never returned home to enjoy those privileges that were won for the rest of us.
          No, I have no problem getting emotional about Memorial Day.  I think of the thousands of men, just like me, with homes, wives, children, communities, who were called to defend an ally from a Communist threat, or repel Hitler’s attempt to conquer the world and “purify” the human race.  They spent days, months and years, in fox holes or some jungle in Vietnam, or even a POW camp, and never came home to the embrace of their families or even a Memorial Day barbecue.
          So this tension wells up in many of us this last Monday of May.  We honor the countless sacrifices of our fallen countrymen, while living in a country that we often struggle to be proud of.  What is the solution?
          For me it was self-reflection.  I have never seen combat overseas.  I have never been fired at in a war zone.  How can I honor the sacrifices of those we celebrate on Memorial Day?
          They fought for the rights and freedoms that are under attack today.  We must do the same.  How?  We will certainly not take up arms.  But we are called to be soldiers for Christ.  And as Americans, we have to make this country Ground Zero of this spiritual war.
          It is easy to throw up our hands when we see elections whose outcome we wonder if we can trust; or we’re told that the redefinition of marriage is inevitable; or businesses are warned that as of August 1, they will be forced to provide immoral coverages in their health insurance plans; or universities (some even blasphemously using the name ‘Catholic’) insist on mocking Christian values.
          But we can not.  Many Christian businesses are fighting the HHS mandate in court.  The pro-life movement is out there fighting for every unborn life and to heal women so deeply wounded by abortion.  Grassroots organizations continue to fight the same-sex “marriage” lobby at every step.  Average Americans are answering the call to start small businesses, run for political office, be faithful to their families, and influence their communities to hold fast to the values that made our country great.
          If we want to honor the sacrifices of those we remember this Memorial Day, let us take stock of our own lives.  Do we sacrifice to stand for the values they died for?  Find your local pro-life group; volunteer for a politician who still embodies integrity, or become one; learn about groups like Patriot Voices, and others, that try to bring American ideals and honesty back to our civic and electoral processes.
          Most of all, as Catholics, we must be men and women of Faith.  We must evangelize, be active in our parishes, and live lives that mark us as unashamedly Christian.  And we can all support the effort of our bishops this summer by participating in the second Fortnight for Freedom.  In these ways, we will truly be soldiers for Christ and the best of patriots.