Monday, May 28, 2018

At the Cemetery

Many of us are certainly old enough to remember Memorial Day's original name - Decoration Day. It began as a day to honor the dead from the Civil War by decorating their graves. Eventually, it became a day to honor the graves of all veterans, but for a long time the emphasis remained on visiting and honoring their graves. My own generation grew up in the aftermath of World War II, and visiting the cemetery on or near Memorial Day was part of that war legacy. Even today, volunteers still visit cemeteries to place flags on graves – a reminder of the importance of the special places of memory we call cemeteries.

So we celebrate this Mass today in a cemetery established by Knoxville’s first Catholic community, committed and devoted to doing their Christian duty to all the dead of the parish.

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 place. 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 for Memorial Day, Mass at Calvary Cemetery, Knoxville, TN, May 28, 2018.

Photo: Memorial Day Mass at Calvary Cemetery, 2016.

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