MEMORIAL DAY AND THE MEANING OF SERVICE
By Father Marc Stockton
Memorial Day is a national holiday, a holy day that we as a nation set apart for a sacred civic duty: to remember the men and women of our armed forces who gave their lives in the service of our country. Whether by land, air or sea, in fields, jungles, deserts, or mountains, on nearly every continent and in every ocean, over a million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have given their lives so that we can live, have sacrificed their freedom so that we can enjoy liberty, and have suffered pain unimaginable so that we can pursue happiness. Each year on this holy day, we come together as a grateful nation to remember them.
Although the death of these beloved men and women is the occasion for our being here, we don’t gather here today to remember that they died. We gather today to remember that they lived, and that, while they lived, they served, and served completely. By reflecting on their service, we recommit ourselves to doing the same. Not necessarily by dying in battle, though, sadly, because war continues to plague our world, some are still called to make that sacrifice. For most of us, we are called to serve our country in other ways, to live and to give our lives each day in the service of our neighbor, near and far.
Whether in the military or as civilians, all Americans are called to serve. Our country is not defined by geography or political structures or even a body of laws. Unlike any other nation before it, America is a country of, for, and by the people, born of the choice by the first Americans to cast off the shackles of tyranny and build a new nation founded on personal freedom. Because of that, this new nation, this noble experiment, would stand or fall, not on the might of its rulers, but on the character of its people. And those first Americans showed the kind of character the citizens of this nation would need, baptizing these newborn United States in the blood of the first people to die in our country’s service.
Since that time, each generation of Americans has faced the same choice as our revolutionary forebears: how will we use our freedom? In our nation’s darkest days, when the fragile flame of liberty’s promise has seemed the smallest breath away from blowing out, the people of those misguided times thought only of themselves and turned their back on their neighbor and their country. But just as the shadows of every night are scattered by the dawn, in America’s finest hours, rays of light have risen over the horizon, men and women of the noblest character, who by their shining example have reminded our country, even the world, that a nation of, for, and by the people can only endure when the people are willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for the good of others.
There are few lights in our nation’s history who shine brighter than the men and women we remember on Memorial Day, and we gather each year, on this holy day, to ensure that their light doesn’t go out. The America that they served, that they fought and died for, is never a given. Each generation, like them, must choose to build it anew through generous acts of selfless service. How will we use our freedom? May we look today to the example of our fallen servicemen and women, and answer that question by giving our lives, each day, in the service of our neighbor.