The True Meaning of Memorial Day

Growing up in North Minneapolis, I spent a lot of time riding my bike along trail known

as “Victory Memorial Drive.” Situated between Robinsdale and Minneapolis, it’s a very

scenic stretch in the city where one finds paved trails, lots of trees, and plenty of space

for playing a game of catch. But, if you look closely, what you will find is that all along

the Drive are a series of markers with crosses on them. You will also find a spot to sit

along the drive where the American Flag flies, and you will see a monument with

numerous names written on it.

The markers and names are in remembrance of those who gave their lives to our

country in World War I.

Having spent so much time in this area as a kid, looking back, I can’t help but wonder

how many people have rode their bikes or ran along the Drive, or stopped to sit down to

rest by the flag pole, but never once read any of the names of the soldiers listed, let

alone say a prayer for them?

While for many we consider this weekend to be the unofficial start of summer, we also

must never forget the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Three years after the civil war ended, the head of an organization of Union Veterans

established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war

dead with flowers. Originally it was decided that this would take place May 30th, as this

was a day flowers would be blooming all across the country. In 1868, the first

observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery.

The ceremonies centered around the mansion that was once Robert E. Lee’s home,

and various officials from Washington, including General Grant, presided over the

ceremony. Children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home made their way

through the cemetery and placed flowers on both the graves of both Union and

Confederate Graves.

In the years that followed, local celebrations of this day would continue. And, while

many now just celebrate with a cookout or a day off, countless others give back to

honor this day as it was founded.

Most recently in December of 2000, the “National Moment of Remembrance Act” was

passed, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of

Remembrance. This commission is charged with “encouraging the people of the United

States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom

and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States

of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance. That moment encourages

all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day for a moment of silence to honor

those who have died in service to our Nation.

Of course, many of us will mark today as a day for a day trip up north or just enjoying a

day off. And there is nothing wrong with that at all. We work very hard, and it’s nice to

have a 3-day weekend and look forward to summer, or to grill some burgers and take it

easy on a Monday afternoon. So please, don’t feel guilty for enjoying today with friends

and family. But at the same time, my hope is that we also never take for granted the

reason we have so many freedoms in our country is because so many people were

willing to serve to safeguard them. As the Trinity reveals perfected love, our soldiers

who have made the ultimate sacrifice also reveal love in all they have done for us. With

that in mind, I’d encourage us to keep in mind all they have done by praying for our

veterans and those who have died, and praying for all of our active duty servicemen and

women as we do each day at Mass, or by simply saying “thank you” to a veteran or a

person in uniform. Above all else, never take for granted the remarkable country we live

in by praying for our nation and realizing how blessed we are to be Americans.

We’ll be having Mass at 8:30 on Memorial Day, and at about 10 to 10:15 a.m. the

American Legion is scheduled to be at our cemetery for a ceremony. It’s also at this time

that I’ll join them in a prayer, and do a blessing for the new corpus that was placed on

our cross.

On this Memorial Day, I’d like to close by sharing the prayer of Saint Sebastian, the

patron Saint of Soldiers. A Roman Soldier who was a Christian, he was martyred for the

faith. May God bless our troops, and God bless America.

Blessings!

Fr. Paul

Prayer to St. Sebastian

Dear Commander at the Roman Emperor's court, you chose to be also a soldier of

Christ and dared to spread faith in the King of Kings, for which you were condemned to

die. Your body, however, proved athletically strong and the executing arrows extremely

weak. So another means to kill you was chose and you gave your life to the Lord. May

Soldiers be always as strong in their faith as their Patron Saint so clearly has been.

Amen.

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