Next Monday we again celebrate Memorial Day. This day has several meanings for people. The primary one remains the honoring of those who have died in war. And then with that we associate the memory of all who have served the country, and who have not necessarily died in battle. Some people then like to commemorate other persons who serve the country in various ways, such as firefighters and police officers. Police officers have always had a difficult task in fulfilling their duties, sometimes being caught between opposing parties on various sides of issues. At times it seems they can’t please anyone.
The day has also been called “Decoration Day” in the past. It was a time to visit cemeteries and place flowers and other decorations on the graves of loved ones.
Many families, of course, have personal connections with this day, through the story of a fallen family member, typically because of war. Our family always recalls our Uncle Eddie, who died in France in 1944 as a very young man. I never knew him, but his name was remembered and revered among us. There are many thousands of stories like that. And so, for many, the day has a somber note to it.
For some people this weekend is a kind of beginning of summer with thoughts of vacations, visits to a lake cottage, picnics and outdoor cooking. It is fine to celebrate such things; goodness knows we all probably need something like that in this year. But these are always against that more somber backdrop, which should never be forgotten.
Our Christian tradition is very much about remembering. The liturgy of Eucharist focuses on remembering what Jesus did the night before he died, in handing over the remembrance of himself under signs of bread and wine. And we simply remember his dying and rising, that Paschal Mystery through which we believe he offers us new life. Certainly in the Catholic Liturgy, each Sunday can be seen as a kind of Memorial Day, as well as another Easter.
I was thinking of that recently in connection with the celebration of the Easter Season. We celebrate Easter for 50 days. Celebration and remembering go together. It is hard to celebrate with great vigor and enthusiasm for 50 days. But we more quietly celebrate by remembering why we have Easter and why we need Easter.
And so as we remember our beloved dead, in whatever way they have left us, we also celebrate them in our minds and hearts. They are still with us somehow, “in spirit” as we like to say.
The Church also remembers its many holy people who have gone before us, that great “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews. We remember them for their example, often in the face of great difficulty, their faithfulness to God. They encourage us to do likewise.
And so there are special meanings to the Memorial Day holiday. We are free to let our minds and imaginations make other applications to what we might remember. Happy Memorial Day to all!
– Fr. Tom Zelinski