Remembering those who died for our country Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, May. 21, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May.

On Memorial Day we honor military personnel who died while serving our country, particularly those who died in battle or from wounds sustained in battle.

On Veterans Day, we honor those who served honorably in military service during wartime or peacetime.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, which originated after the American Civil War to remember the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war.

Eventually Memorial Day was extended to honor all American military personnel who died in combat.

Just War theory

Jesus came to bring peace. In Matt. 26:51-52, when the soldiers came to seize Jesus, it says, "One of those who followed Jesus drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant." Jesus ordered, "Put your sword back in its sheath. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

Early Christians did not 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 exploiting the weak and innocent.

St. Augustine formulated the Just War theory which reluctantly permits war when certain conditions are met: war must be a last resort after all other means have been ineffective, be waged for a just cause by legitimate authority, have reasonable hope of success, and intend to achieve peace.

A soldier who was a Japanese POW for three years and survived the Bataan death march explained, "War is always horrible, even when you're on the side of good and battling evil. Killing another human or holding a fallen comrade in your arms is never easy." Some say that war never decides who is right, but only who is left.

Heroic sacrifices

Despite war's darkness, military personnel sometimes make heroic sacrifices. During the Korean War, Richard Manning and Ray Brennan were in a foxhole. A grenade unexpectedly landed next to Ray Brennan. Brennan jumped on it and died so his friend could live.

Eight years later Manning entered the Franciscan priesthood. Because of his friend's sacrifice, he took the name Brennan as his first name, as customary for Religious orders. He hoped to live sacrificially as his friend who died for him had lived.

Agents of security and freedom

In no. 79 of the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, it says "Those who devote themselves to the military service of their country should regard themselves as agents of security and freedom of peoples. As long as they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace."

Many enter military service because they desire to protect their homeland's freedom and security.

Military personnel sacrifice time, plans, comfort, and sometimes their lives so that we might live in freedom and peace; however, earthly peace is fragile.

President Dwight Eisenhower said, "Though force can protect us in emergencies, only justice, fairness, consideration, and cooperation can finally lead humanity to the dawn of eternal peace."

God's plan of peace

Isaiah 2:4 expresses God’s plan of peace, "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

War should motivate us to work for peace and for ordering society according to God's plan, not man's plan.

At Mass we pray for God's gift of peace. Before we receive Communion, we reverently pray the prayer based upon some words of the centurion-soldier, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

May the Eucharist strengthen us to bring peace to our homes, neighborhoods, work, and world.


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