My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we approach Memorial Day, which was originally was called Decoration Day, we are reminded that this is a day of remembrance for those who have died in defense of our Nation. The actual beginnings of Memorial Day seem to be lost in history. The fact is that after the Civil War there was a great need for reconciliation between the North and South. Although the celebration originally began in the North, it was eventually adopted by the South as a day when the opposite sides of the Civil War could be reconciled.
Memorial Day was first officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan who was the commander of the Army of the Republic. It was first observed on May 30 of that year when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. Since that time, unfortunately, its true meaning has been lost for many as just another long weekend.
Patriotism was much more evident in our Nation when I was growing up. Outside of every church there were Veterans of Foreign Wars selling red paper poppies for several weeks before Memorial Day. I always wondered about the origin of the poppy and how it was linked to Memorial Day. The fact is, after the First World War, a poem entitled “In Flanders Fields” inspired Moina Michael to write her own poem which said, “We cherish too the Poppy red that grows on fields where valor led, it seems to signal to the skies that blood of heroes never dies.” Poppies were sold to assist the Veterans of Foreign Wars for their various needs. Also, veterans groups on Memorial Day visit cemeteries and place American flags on the graves of those who died in service.
Perhaps the reason why patriotism has waned is that the external threats directly against our Nation are not perceived to be such. I am not sure how we, who have survived September 11 in our country, would ever forget that we are directly threatened. But the politics of defense are complicated and the negative feelings toward the war in Iraq, and even Afghanistan at this point, have made those in military service unsure of the support of their own country. In the past, it was much clearer that national defense was involved in the wars we undertook. The complexity of the modern world, however, has made our opinions less certain.
I believe that we can all agree that ending war and bringing our troops home would be the best course of action. Responsibility dictates, however, that this should be done in a measured way leaving the countries we have attempted to assist in better stead than when we found them. It is not an easy task.
Most recently, controversy has erupted on the issue of torture reportedly used by our troops or the CIA. The definition of torture is difficult to agree upon. In our own minds, torture is the intentional infliction of pain for the purpose of coercion that would leave a victim permanently disabled, physically or even psychologically. Interrogation methods must be clearly distinct from torture less we immobilize our intelligence community from discovering information that will protect us. We should strive for the highest standards in any interrogation and not use any method which can be defined as torture.
This year as always, the bishops of the diocese will celebrate Masses at our diocesan cemeteries. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq will celebrate Mass at 8 a.m. at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph and I will celebrate the Noon Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James.
At each Mass, we will pray for those who served our country in uniform. We join together to pray for those who truly put out into the deep giving their lives to the defense of our Nation. It is my hope that every service man and woman today will feel the respect and gratitude of a nation country that appreciates his/her service and sacrifice. Join me this Memorial Day as we remember those who have died recognizing that they are the heirs of eternal life.