Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Many of us are old enough to remember Memorial Day's original name - Decoration Day. The holiday began as the day to honor the dead from the Civil War by decorating their graves. Eventually, it became the day to honor the graves of all veterans, but for a long time the emphasis remained on visiting and honoring the their graves. Even today, when Memorial Day has become just another day for shopping, sporting, and picnicking, volunteers still visit cemeteries to put flags on veterans’ graves – a reminder of the importance of remembering and of the special places of memory we call cemeteries.

In Italian, the word for cemetery is campo santo – literally, “holy field,” or, as we would say in common English, “holy ground.” Cemeteries are special places for us – special not just because they are blessed by the Church and marked by beautiful monuments. They are special places because this is where we remember those who have died, who have gone before us in life, our cherished past to whom we owe our present. Remembering is one of the things that especially makes us human. To remember those who have died, as our nation does today and as we do whenever we visit a cemetery, is to acknowledge the importance of their lives - and the common humanity, which we share with them in life and in death. Remembering is also one of the things that especially makes us Christian. To remember those who have gone before us in faith, as we do especially here today but every day at every Mass, is to celebrate the multitude of ways in which the grace of God touched and transformed each one of them in life - and the hope we still share with them in death.

So it is good that we gather together today, to remember and pray for our brothers and sisters whose bodies lie here in this holy ground. It is, as the author of the book of Maccabees has reminded us, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be purified from their sins and welcomed among the saints, as we too hope someday to be welcomed with them forever.

Homily, Memorial Day Mass, Calvary Cemetery, Knoxville, TN, May 30, 2016.

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