Memorial Day reminds us to work for peace Print E-mail
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, May. 25, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

In Vietnam, Brian Rooney, an Army medic, knelt to read a dying soldier's dog tags. As he did, the soldier whispered, "Remember me." Rooney promised that he would remember him.

He certainly did. According to the May 23, 2003, Los Angeles Daily News, Brian Rooney spent thousands of his dollars and hundreds of hours memorializing and remembering America's war dead.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a federal holiday when we join Rooney in remembering military men and women who died while serving our country. On Veteran's Day, we honor the service of all American military veterans.

In 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, named May 30 as a special day to honor Union soldiers' graves by strewing them with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of soldiers who died during the Civil War. It was appropriately called Decoration Day.

By the 20th Century, competing Union and Confederate traditions honoring Civil War veterans had merged. Gradually Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day and was expanded to honor all Americans who died in military service.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an Act of Congress. Its date was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May to extend the weekend. Some claim this change made it easier to be distracted from Memorial Day's meaning. They advocate returning it to May 30 to keep its true meaning.

Following the Prince of Peace

Because they followed Christ, the Prince of Peace, early Christians didn't bear arms. When Christ didn't come a second time to bring peace, some Christians concluded that sometimes it was necessary to fight to keep evil people from forcing their will on weak, innocent people.

Consequently, St. Augustine formulated the Just War Theory, which reluctantly permits war when the following rigorous conditions are met: "War should be a last resort for a just cause by legitimate authority, the damage by the aggressor must be lasting, grave, and certain, have serious prospects of success, and the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated."

Denver's Archbishop Samuel Aquila's uncle, who survived the Bataan Death March and was a World War II prisoner of war for three and a half years, said, "There is no glory in war no matter how just a cause may be. War is always horrific, even when you are you are on the side of good battling evil. Killing another human being and holding a fallen comrade is never easy. War always has its dark side."

Archbishop Aquila said war should always remind us that Jesus calls us to work for peace. In 2310-2311 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "Those who serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of nations and the maintenance of peace. Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience, refuse to bear arms; these are nevertheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way."

In 2317 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, "Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building peace and avoiding war."

Chaplain died helping others

In the 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma was sunk by aerial torpedoes. Fr. Aloysius Schmitt of the Archdiocese of Dubuque died while helping to save 12 shipmates by lifting them through a small porthole. He was the first chaplain killed during World War II.

On September 8, 2016, the remains of Father Schmitt were identified. A service was held in his hometown of St. Lucas, Iowa, on October 5. His remains were interred at Loras College on October 8.

In Pacem in Terris, Pope St. John XXIII wrote, "So magnificent is this aim (for peace) that human resources alone, though inspired by the most praiseworthy good will, cannot hope to achieve it. God must come to man's aid with his heavenly assistance if human society is to bear the closest possible resemblance to the kingdom of God."

Let's pray for and remember those who died for our country. Let's also pray for innocent victims of war and continue to be Christ's instruments who work for peace.


Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.