24 May 2009
“‘I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from evil.’” (John 17:15) In the name …
In England for the past two years the military personnel who have been killed in Afghanistan have been flown into the Air Force base at Lyneham. From there they are taken to the hospital morgue at Oxford. To get from Lyneham to Oxford the bodies must pass through the town of Wootton. English hearses are different than American ones. The entire rear section of the vehicle is of glass, which makes the casket clearly visible inside the hearse. And military funerals are easily distinguished from all others because the caskets are neatly draped in the British flag. When the military hearses first started coming through Wooton, a few townspeople noticed that one elderly man stood silent and alone by the side of the road saluting as the coffins went by. That sight shocked and saddened other people from the town. They had been going about their usual activities, too busy to pause for a moment’s respect as a soldier’s body was brought home. That one elderly man standing all by himself and saluting brought home the reality of the huge personal cost of the war for some families and in stark contrast how little it really affected others. Somebody’s son or daughter was in that hearse and only one man stopped for maybe a minute to pay his respects as the body was carried by. Others were too busy.
The next time that a military hearse came through town, however, a few shopkeepers left their businesses along Main Street and stood beside the road in a quiet display of respect. Soon other people from Wootton started to take notice of this simple, but meaningful practice. A longer and longer section of Main Street started to be lined by people pausing for only a moment to honour their war dead. Someone eventually wrote an article about the townspeople of Wootton, and then others from around England started to show up and to join in this impromptu gathering. Eventually, the local branch of the Royal British Legion, comparable to our American Legion, would be notified in advance of when these military funeral processions would pass through town. They would notify a couple of people who would pass the word around, and that would be the extent of their organization. The townspeople wanted to keep this tribute as free and spontaneous an act of respect as they could. They wanted to make sure that no one felt compelled to be there. The ones gathering had to be like that first anonymous, elderly gentleman who stood alone and saluted because his heart called him to pay his respects.
Here in America we are observing Memorial Day Weekend. Prayers and parades abound all over the country on these three days. Tomorrow morning I will offer Mass here for all of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who offered the supreme sacrifice and who died in battle. To the best of my knowledge four men from Holy Name of Jesus answered the call to serve our country and never returned home. They are the ones I mentioned earlier as we again added names to our Veteran’s Board: Anthony Burek, Leon Kuzdeba, Peter Kuzdeba and Myron Orloski. Following the Memorial Day Requiem Mass, I will head over to the Town Common and participate in Deerfield’s Memorial Day observance. Mrs. Belanger will be there. She is the mother of Sgt. Bellanger who died in Iraq and whose funeral procession through town brought out our people just like the people of Wootton now gather across the Atlantic. Then the parade marches from the Common to the various cemeteries in the center of town. When they come to our parish cemetery, I will offer prayers for all of the deceased who are there buried and whose graves are marked by the honour of an American flag. Many Americans will view Memorial Day as only a three-day vacation weekend. They will not so much as pause to remember and to honour the ones who have sacrificed everything for us and our country. And because of those who will not remember, whatever we do to observe Memorial Day will be like that lone gentleman who stopped to salute the passing hearse, and will be like all of the people in Wootton who gather for their impromptu farewells to their fallen countrymen. Ours will not be an obligation. What we do will arise from our choice to never forget. This sincerity is the least we can do to honour those who have served and especially to honour those who have died in places so unlike this peaceful, quiet town of ours.
Fr. Randy Calvo
Today we read Jesus’ prayer to the heavenly Father as He prepares His followers for the time when He will no longer be with them, for the time after He ascends into heaven. Jesus realizes that He cannot call all of His followers out of this world to be with Him in heaven, thus His words: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world …” But Jesus does pray that they be protected from evil while in this world. Jesus knows firsthand the meanness of this world, its harshness and sadness. And Jesus prays for us for our protection. I believe this prayer. This is why we pray every Sunday for John Orloski in Afghanistan and my nephew Charles Calvo in Iraq. And I pray for them and all who serve every day. I would ask all of you to do the same: to pray for all who must fight in battle, and pray that our leaders somehow find a way to restore peace in our world. For no one so values peace as one who has to face the violence of war. And since it is Memorial Day Weekend we can also count on Jesus’ promise that there is more to life than this world. He faced death with the certainty and the assurance of life with God always. “‘Now I am coming to you [Father] …’” (John 17:13), He said. For all who pause to pay final respects on Memorial Day to our fallen citizens, let this solemn hour be tempered by faith in the promise that life continues past the grave, that human hatred for one another and the violence it spawns is not the equal to God’s love for all of us. For these things we pray this Memorial Day Weekend in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)