Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

Earlier this month the world remembered the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the victory that marked the end of the Second World War in Europe. A few weeks earlier, we celebrated the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War. My own generation grew up in the aftermath of World War II, the impact of which permeated that world in ways both good and bad. And we celebrate Mass today, a stone’s throw away from a Civil War cemetery, on a holiday that owes its origin to that terrible conflict.  We celebrate this Mass today in a neighboring cemetery, one established on this sacred ground barely four years after the Civil War’s end – a cemetery established by Knoxville’s first Catholic community, committed and devoted to doing their Christian duty to all the dead of the parish.

Cemeteries are special places for us – special not just because they are blessed and consecrated by the Church and marked by beautiful and noble monuments. They are special places for us, first and foremost, because it is where we remember one another, 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 place. It is, as the author of the book of Maccabees has reminded us [2 Maccabees 12:43-46], 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 for Memorial Day at Calvary Cemetery, Knoxville, TN, May 25, 2015.

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