This Sunday’s date, May 26th, will always have a powerful meaning for me since it is the date of my father’s death. He died in 1985 and that year as in 2019 May 26th fell on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend: my memory of his death has been forever linked with our national holiday remembering our war dead.
In a way this link is appropriate since Dad was a veteran of World War II and for him, as for millions of men and women of his era, Memorial Day stood out more than it does today as a poignant time of gratitude and quiet reflection on the loss of so many to “the war”—and indeed to all wars which our country has experienced. The pain of such losses was not abstract for him since he served as an infantry sergeant on Okinawa and knew first hand the horror of war.
I vividly remember as a child digging through Dad’s old Army trunk in our attic and looking at snapshots that he had taken in the service, ribbons from his uniform, U.S. currency with HAWAII printed across the back, and a Nambu pistol that had been “liberated” from a Japanese officer. The war was something distant and fantastic to me as a little boy, but it occurred to me even then that if Dad had not returned from Okinawa, where more than 12,000 American soldiers, marines, sailors and aviators were killed, I would not exist.
As I think back today on those childhood ruminations it occurs to me how much Dad taught me in the time we did have together, and how much those 12,000 men never got to teach to any son or daughter, or how many childhoods were interrupted by the premature death of a father.
In today’s Gospel reading Saint John reminds us how much Jesus desires to teach us, and how he did not allow even death to prevent him from passing on to his friends all he wanted them to know and to live by. We read: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). Jesus thus assured his disciples that when he died he would not leave them orphans but rather would send the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen them in his absence.
The orphans of war are still with us and their grief must never be overlooked, yet we and they together can find consolation knowing that the same Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised at the Last Supper remains with us, sustaining us as we negotiate both the joys and the sorrows of life. Amid our mourning over the dead we can therefore discover the peace of which Jesus himself spoke: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).
On this Memorial Day weekend let us take to heart the words of the Lord and honor our beloved war dead by resolving to live in the light of Jesus’ Spirit, not giving into the temptation to live in the fear that gives rise to aggression between individuals and war between nations, but rather forging peace and teaching our children to do the same. That would be a truly worthy testament to those of whom we sing: “O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife / Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!”
Blessings for a peaceful Memorial Day.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.