We celebrate one of those “hidden” holidays of the year on May 28 – Memorial Day. Why do you think Memorial Day does not get as much attention as other national holidays?
If my memory is correct, as a kid, it was not even celebrated as a holiday from work, and I don’t really know why. In the last 20 to 30 years, it has become much more celebrated, and that’s a very good thing. We can easily take for granted those who have served our country in the military and gone before us in death. They have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. As a country, we have a moral, ethical and spiritual duty to remember them in prayer and remember their families as they continue to grieve their loss.
Have you celebrated many funerals for military personnel?
I have. One that touched me greatly was for a young man killed in Iraq. I will always remember how difficult it was. He had a wife and small children. On that day, people certainly came to the funeral with far more questions than answers. It’s the age-old question – how can God let this happen? Was this really God’s will? We can say that his death was not God’s will. It is not God’s will for us to have violence or for people to die from violence. People are killed in wars because of the imperfection of humanity and our decisions to choose evil. These wars happen, and people give up their lives. They have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up their lives for our country and for the freedom and well-being of other countries. I also get calls from people who express to me their sadness. Either they themselves were in the military or they had a spouse or a parent who gave their life for the country. Sometimes they feel like their loved ones are forgotten.
When you were ordained in 1975, the Vietnam War was just coming to an end, and many of the soldiers who returned did not receive a hero’s welcome, in part because the war was so unpopular.
That’s very true. Some veterans’ lives are taken in combat, but we also can say that some of those returning from war experience a slow death because of the terrible psychological effects they have experienced. Though they have not died, there is something that has died within them, which is why our country must make it a priority to give these returning veterans the best mental and physical health care possible. We remember them on Memorial Day as well.
Can you offer a prayer for those who have died?
The “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers,” which is published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, includes a powerful prayer for those who have given their lives for our country: “God of power and mercy, you destroy war and put down earthly pride. Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears, that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters. Keep in your mercy those men and women who have died in the cause of freedom and bring them safely into your kingdom of justice and peace. We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.