Friday, May 27, 2011

To hold in memory

In my high school Latin class, we learned the phrase, "In memoriam tenere," which my teacher translated as, "To hold in memory." I remember being struck by the melodiousness of the Latin words and the depth of their meaning.

We are holding a lot of people in memory right now, as Americans. So many tragic deaths; so many lives cut short by devastating storms dropping out of the sky with little warning. The news this week has been hard to read, as the people of Joplin find more of their dead, and mourn those they'd hoped against hope to find alive.

Life on Earth is full of suffering and grief. We do well to remember, pray for, and honor those who have gone before us; it unites us in our humanity, as children of the same Father who holds us in His loving hands all the days of our lives.

This weekend, and especially this coming Monday, we honor in a special way those who have sacrificed their lives in service to our nation, in the armed forces. We sometimes think of those sacrifices as long-ago, far-off things; it's easy to forget that our soldiers are still fighting and dying in far away places. We can, and should, debate the policies and goals and morality of these wars--but we should not denigrate those who serve, or fail to stand in respectful gratitude and solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in these battles.

When death sweeps forth from the sky in a demonstration of the fearful power of nature in a fallen world, we can only weep and wonder. When human beings take up arms against each other and inflict that kind of suffering on families and communities, we should take responsibility, and question most seriously whether we are still doing any good in these far-off, foreign wars--whether, in fact, it is not beyond the time we should be taking firm steps to bring our men and women home (and, perhaps, discussing with gravity whether they should ever have been sent to these wars in the first place). We do not dishonor the memory of the fallen to have these conversations; it would be a greater dishonor to their memories to pretend that their lives and deaths should not matter to our policies and goals.

There are times when the only recourse of virtue is to take up arms against evil. But we treat the matter entirely too facilely if we assume that taking up arms is the only recourse of virtue in every situation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses in detail the Just War theory and the notion of moral responsibility even in times of war; how many wars in our lifetimes have met any, let alone all, of these criteria?

In our prayers of thanksgiving and remembrance for those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of our nation, I hope we will also pray for an end to war and the suffering and death it produces, and for a greater moral seriousness in the policies and decisions that lead nations into conflict with each other. As we hold in memory those who have died for our country, and those many suffering, grieving family members they have left behind, let us increase our resolve to reject war as the means of solving international conflict, and pray for peace and brotherhood with all men.

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