“It’s all right to celebrate this day with fireworks and parades and decorating grave sites, but it seems to me that the best way to honor those who have died in wars is to dedicate ourselves to eliminating future wars.”
-Fr. John Czyzynski,, SCJ
Fr. John Czyzynski, SCJ, gave the homily at this morning’s Memorial Day liturgy at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake. Due to social distancing guidelines, the Mass was not open to the public. We share his words here:
Memorial Day is a civil holiday. It does not have a place in our liturgical calendar, but I feel it really deserves a place there. I looked into the origin of the celebration of this day. There are several incidents that claim to be the first observance of Memorial Day. The one that I found to be the most moving and the most interesting goes back to 1865 and what happened near Charleston, South Carolina. There was a prisoner of war camp there and some 260 Union soldiers who were held captive there, died of disease and exposure. They were buried in a mass grave. When Charleston fell, a group of freed slaves exhumed their bodies and prepared individual burial places for each of them. Afterwards, on May 1, 1865, a group of 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves gathered at the site. They held a parade, sang songs and children carried flowers to honor those buried there. This observance spread and grew until it was declared a national holiday in 1971.
It used to be called “decoration day” because people visited cemeteries and decorated the graves with wreathes and flowers. It is a day when this country stops and remembers those who gave their lives in wars. It seems to me that such an occasion should have a place in our liturgical calendar. In the book of Maccabees we are told it is a good thing to pray for the dead. Jesus tells us we cannot show greater love than to lay down our lives for those we love. I connect that with words Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg. He said, in part: “it is for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
It’s all right to celebrate this day with fireworks and parades and decorating grave sites, but it seems to me that the best way to honor those who have died in wars is to dedicate ourselves to eliminating future wars. Pope Paul VI speaking to those gathered at the United Nations pleaded: No more war, never again. And popes have said that with the kinds of weapons we have today, it is difficult to see how any war could be called a just war. Through Isaiah the prophet God says: “beat your swords into ploughshares and your spears into pruning hooks.” Feed one another, don’t kill each other. Don’t train for war again.
We at times sing a song that says: “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” As we gather for our Eucharist on this Memorial Day, we ask God to help us move those words from our lips to our hearts. We ask God to touch all of our hearts that we may deal more gently with ourselves and with one another. We ask God to guide the citizens of this nation and of all nations, that we would choose leaders who want to negotiate the differences we have rather than resort to threats of war.
As Priests of the Sacred Heart we say we are prophets of love and servants of reconciliation and we work and pray for the establishment of the reign of the Sacred Heart in souls and societies. That reign of the Sacred Heart certainly entails our living with one another in peace and sharing the good things of the earth which God has given us. We need to pray for the reign of God’s love to come about, but we also need to work, to do what we can to make that a reality.