Memorial Day and the Power of Remembrance

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While I was growing up, my family emphasized that calling to mind those who gave their lives to sacrifice for our country is always necessary and important. 

We visited the cemetery on all major holidays to spend time at my grandparents’ graves. We traveled there on Thanksgiving, the week of Christmas, and Easter Sunday. My parents, my three brothers, and I would climb into the car after Mass and head to the cemetery.

If we were at my paternal grandfather’s grave, we would all exit the car once we arrived and say a prayer at the tombstone. After a few minutes, my mom would bring us back to the car and my dad would stay behind at the grave of his father. If we were at my maternal grandmother’s grave, the opposite happened. Dad would usher us to the car and Mom would stay behind for a few extra minutes. 

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This was their intimate time alone with the parent they had lost. We honored their memory by going to the cemetery as a family, but I also remember that image of my mother or father spending one-on-one time with the grave as I peered out the car window looking at them. It was as if they were talking to their respective parent as if they were still alive and could hear them. They were remembering them by continuing their relationship with them. I was drawn into this moment because I witnessed my mom and dad love their own parent even beyond their death. 

My maternal grandmother is buried at an armed services cemetery on Long Island because her husband served in the military. All the tombstones there are the same rectangle shape and the same color, white. The uniform aisles of tombstones evoke something inside of me that brings me to honor those who gave their lives and the family members of those who served. Every visit is like a miniature Memorial Day. 

Today, we are called to remember and honor the sacrificial love of countless men and women who gave everything so we could live in our beautiful country. The challenge is to honor them even when it is not Memorial Day. 

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When I visited the cemetery as a child, I was so reflective of my grandparents’ lives as well as grateful for the love of my parents. I was more attentive to my relationship with them because I was reminded of how short and fragile life is. 

But then, I would go back to my routine until the next holiday and forget how important it is to remember those who came before me so that I could live (literally in the case of my grandparents being my ancestors). On this Memorial Day, we are invited to take that focus towards those who died in service. How can we be more intentional about giving them honor and respect?

Our Catholic faith offers two great connections that are easy and powerful. One, pray for veterans, those who died in the line of duty, and those current service men and women at Mass on Memorial Day weekend. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. We do not simply call to mind what Christ did; those mysteries are made to present to us. As the Son of God died so that we could live, we can pray especially for those who died for our country so that we could have the freedoms we do today.

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Second, pray a decade of the Rosary or an entire Rosary for our veterans. We can pray for those who have died and those who have returned from the armed forces. We know that so many returning service people struggle to reacclimate into society. Pray that they may find work and know their value. 

Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May, a month dedicated to honoring the Mother of God. Praying for Mary’s intercession allows us to call to mind the fact that she is guiding all of her children, wherever they find themselves.

Whatever you do for Memorial Day, make it something that serves as a powerful and lasting reminder of just how blessed we are to have people in our age and in our history who live out the sacrificial love of Christ. May we honor them by respecting that love and mirroring it in our own lives as best we can.