This morning I offered Mass at Calvary Cemetery which is located in Pinellas County or on the St. Petersburg side of Tampa Bay. It is the only diocesan cemetery of any size and therefore it is the “gathering spot” for Masses on All Souls’ Day and Memorial Day. When I am in the diocese, I am always the celebrant and homilist for both Masses. They are known for the dispatch in which they are offered and for the intense heat and humidity of a late May and early November central Florida Day. This morning they set 500 chairs out and almost all were taken and at least a hundred more chose to stand elsewhere, usually under a shade tree if they could find one. Memorial Day is an important day for Catholics to gather to remember generally the dead but especially those who gave their lives in service to their country or were wounded in the line of duty or were Veterans of the armed services. About fifteen priests joined me this morning in concelebrating the Mass and three seminarians were also present. I wish to share with you my very brief homiletic reflection on this occasion, hoping that perhaps you will find time to offer a prayer for the repose of the souls of those whom you love.
MEMORIAL DAY MASS 2011
I know that each year I come to celebrate this Mass with mixed feelings. There is the desire to recall in thanksgiving, at Mass, the sacrifices others have made so that we might live in a land of the free and a home of the brave. This is always coupled with the knowledge that it is going to be hot, uncomfortably hot. But you and I come each year, recalling the lives of those who are buried here and especially on this day those who have given their lives in service to our nation and to its people. I am painfully aware that in the last decade another 6000 young women and men have died serving in our armed forces around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are our fallen heroes, worthy of our prayers and remembrance.
We need not dwell at length this morning on our Catholic and Christian understanding of death. It is a release into the life for which we all await – a life where every tear will be wiped away and we shall see God as God really is. It is a life where we will be in communion with the woman soldier, Joan of Arc, and Martin of Tours. But they are names only to us; names of those whom we can be safely assured are at rest with the Lord. There are the others, known only to us for whom we pray this day.
Fallen, wounded, returned – those whom we memorialize this morning are in the hands of God because they lived a life of justice. We know that none of the torments, which can accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage, can any longer touch them. For some their life journey on earth ended far too quickly and in what Jesus said was the greatest act of the love, they laid down their lives for their friends. They are now at peace, having made the greatest sacrifice in imitation of that of Jesus. They have served – their country, their branch of service, their families with honor and distinction.
In return they have been led by He who promised that He was the “way, the truth and the life” and no one who truly believed in Him would ever die but instead would live. We cannot hear these words or recall these images often enough and when we begin to own them as our own then the sting of death and the pain of our loss is lessened.
That is precisely why we gather in the heat of the day each year to recall in prayer the heroic virtues of service, to thank God for the presence of our heroes and loved ones in our lives, to receive the body and blood of He who made the ultimate sacrifice so that the enlistment center for eternal life could be opened for all of us.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual life shine upon them.