Pastoral Message – MAY 30, 2021
This Monday, our nation celebrates Memorial Day which commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service of our country, particularly those who died in battle. Although the concept of honoring fallen soldiers began after the Civil War, Memorial Day did not become a national holiday until 100 years later in 1971. By then, the day had long since been dedicated to all members of the armed forces who had lost their lives in any of our country’s wars. While many may have forgotten the origins of this day and simply view it as the unofficial start of Summer, many others continue to mourn the loss of those members of the armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
When I was a Boy Scout in the 1970s I marched in Staten Island’s Memorial Day parade. Until a couple of years ago, my dad marched in that same parade each year with the members of his VFW unit. The parade wasn’t big like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or fancy like the Tournament of Roses parade. Yet, hundreds of people lined the streets to watch us go by. As we honored and respected I remember how many flags there were in the hands of those watching and marching as well as hanging from the houses and businesses that we passed along the parade route. There was a certain feeling of both pride and love that filled all those who participated in honoring those who had fallen in service to our country.
Of course, our Lord is the ultimate example of one who willingly gave up his life for others. As he explained to his apostles, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 13:15). This passage inspires us to recognize that a cause can be so noble, so compelling and so consuming that one should defend it with his or her life. Just as our liberties as a free country are causes for which men and women have died, the Christian battle against evil may also be such a cause. In fact, the analogy of Christians engaged in battle was popularized in the hymn which urges, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war…” For that reason, the Church honors martyrs who gave up their lives fighting that war for their faith. In fact, martyrdom is a direct and certain path to sainthood.
Today, many question whether any person or cause is important enough to justify making the ultimate sacrifice. Parents may be willing to give up their lives for their children, but not for each other, for their friends, for their country or for their faith. In a society that is increasingly focused on self-satisfaction, self-love, and self-aggrandizement, it is not surprising that self-sacrifice in any form is frowned upon. Many people see no point in even little examples of self-sacrifice, like attending Mass for an hour on Sundays, or helping an elderly neighbor with yard work, being generous in charity, or simply loving one another.
In fact, Jesus spoke far more frequently about loving one another than about laying down one’s life for one’s friends. We may never be asked to lay down our lives for others, but we are ALWAYS expected to love one another. Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity represents the most perfect example of love. When we say that “God is love,” we point to the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity as the manifestation of that perfect love. When Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us, we were instantly and eternally invited to not only share in that perfect love, but also to share that love with others through our lives.
When those in the military lose their lives fighting to protect our country, we might say that they were simply “doing their duty.” However, I like to think that the only reason that they are able to do their duty to that degree is because they are motivated by love. Fear of punishment for not doing one’s duty may motivate some, but it is unlikely to inspire one to “lay down one’s life for his friends” (much less those whom he has never met). In fact, of the two great motivators – love and fear – I believe that love is stronger and more compelling. If a soldier acts for love of country rather than fear of punishment, he or she will be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for a noble cause. Similarly, if Christians are motivated by love of others rather than fear of hell, we are also more likely to “go above and beyond” to serve others in every possible way.
So, as we contemplate the importance of both the Feast of the Holy Trinity and Memorial Day, let’s consider what love looks like in our lives and whether we are fully and completely devoted to making sacrifices (both large and small) to manifest our love for others.