Monday, May 30, 2011


As we look back this Memorial Day, and commemorate the grave results of all our past wars, the sacrifices made by our soldiers, we should remember also sacrifices imposed on the enemies, and suffered by families of all involved, on either sides of conflicts. A website dealing with the history of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, and the different traditions North and South post Civil War says it well. “…Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.” 1 A national Memorial Day was given official proclamation in 1868. Now it’s time to examine deeply the darkness of war in the light of our faith.
A Lantern Floating ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park, Hawaii every Memorial Day

When I first began to think about what war might mean in my life, just graduating from high school in 1965, it seemed pretty remote, even though Vietnam was beginning to make some media rumblings. Off to Sacred Heart Seminary for first year college, the world and my church were experiencing exciting challenging times. The latter part of high school I’d been regularly following Newsweek, Africa turning from colonies into nation states. That summer I’d read Martin Buber’s “I and Thou.” Now the documents of Vatican II were introduced to us in seminary classes.

War was still a distant horizon, but for some reason I chose the Peter Paul & Mary version of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” as my tryout song for the Skola, seminary choir. Knowing it by heart, and being simple to perform made it come to mind, but its words from then to now, many wars later, are to me a compelling tragic reminder of war’s relentless human cost. Sentimental in tone--at its heart a powerful almost ecological insight.
Lyrics summary: Where have all the flowers gone. Young girls have picked them. Young girls gone to husbands. Husbands gone to soldiers. Soldiers gone to graveyards. Graveyards gone to flowers. Young girls have picked them {again}. Refrain—When will they ever learn [2X].

The problem gradually began to take hold of me in young adulthood--our whole society, and societies around the world, are not learning to reject the destructive hell that is war. We all believe that at some or many levels we need and must accept its protection. It’s not just soldiers and young girls, but all of us, entire economies that are bent towards the directives of war. We trust in war, before God, as a necessary evil. This violates the First Commandment.

Then I learned the realities of war from returning Vietnam vets, scouring news reports, reading I. F. Stone’ Weekly [product of a Jewish journalist adept at criticizing the powers that be], and from the preaching and prayer of Catholic priest friends.

Leaving the seminary I lived and worked in farm labor camps during summers, finished college at MSU, and became a conscientious objector to all wars. Experience living with the poor, and reading the Bible carefully, cover to cover, helped form my opinion. Yet it was the devout faith passed down from parents and church that convinced me. “Love your enemy, pray for those that persecute you,” gives no license to kill them, even when you think you’ve good reason to.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters, that stretches out its roots to the stream. Jer 17: 7-8
Jesus was very agonistic, argumentative, powerful in word and spirit, as he confronted evil, but He never justified violence against persons, never called for followers to take up arms for worldly or heavenly kingdom. His kingdom and our salvation were won by dying on a cross, not by killing. [More on this in weeks to come.]
It is very difficult for any of us to live this way commanded by Jesus--complete trust in God. And many of my Christian friends disagree fundamentally with a belief that is not ready to fight lethally to defend home and country. My wife and I in contrast have this belief, but at this point, are paying taxes that sustain our massive infrastructure of death dealing weaponry. We all depend on the grace of an all-merciful, all-loving God. We can all call out with the apostle, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” The deaths of the many courageous before us, in war and against war, can best be honored by choosing life, undeniable right to life for all, friend or foe, born or unborn.
Memorial Day Prayer

In the quiet sanctuaries of our own hearts,
let us call on the name of the One whose power over us
is great and gentle, firm and forgiving, holy and healing…

You who created us,
who sustain us,
who call us to live in peace,
hear our prayer this day.

Hear our prayer for all who have died,
whose hearts and hopes are known to you alone…

Hear our prayer for those who put the welfare of others
ahead of their own:
give us hearts as generous as theirs…

Hear our prayer for those who gave their lives
in the service of others,
and accept the gift of their sacrifice…

Help us to shape and make a world
where we will put down the arms of war
and live in the harvest of justice and peace…

Comfort those who grieve the loss of their loved ones:
in our hearts let your healing be our hope.

Hear our prayer this day
and in your mercy answer us
in the name of all that is holy.


By Fr. Austin Fleming, Concord, MA --

Illumination "Beatus Vir" by Kathy Brahney

No comments:

Post a Comment