Brad Littlejohn writes on Memorial Day and why we thank God for the land of our birth and the courage of those willing to die for it:
Today, most Americans are celebrating Memorial Day with a barbecue or maybe a boating expedition—ringing in the unofficial start of summer with the traditional rites of recreation that mark our cultural calendar. A smaller, dwindling number are likely to mark the day as Memorial Day, a solemn memorial to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. Among Christians from more liturgical traditions, yesterday saw the celebration of Ascension Sunday, when the church historically honors the enthronement of the Prince of Peace as ruler over all nations.
This juxtaposition of Memorial Day and Ascension Sunday is apt to give us pause. Is there something wrong, after all, with the swelling pride of patriotism, with the veneration of martyrs to national honor, in a world in which the reign of Christ has relativized all national loyalties and in which the only martyrs who finally matter are those who bear Christ’s banner? Christians have asked such questions for centuries. Today, a rising chorus is prepared to dismiss observances like Memorial Day as jingoistic nationalism, a glorification of violence that Christians should oppose. But this is terribly shortsighted.
For most of human history, freedom – classically understood as the ability to choose the good – has not been the default setting. Kings, rulers, tyrants, and warlords made right by might. By contrast, in the bare bones of its Constitution, the United States of America approximated the best opportunity for people not already powerful to also choose the good – farmers, shop owners, craftsmen, laborers, and others. (This is why those enlisting in America’s armed forces swear their oath to the Constitution, not to the president, Congress, or any commanding officer.)
This freedom to choose the good is also the freedom to choose evil. America has never been perfect, and our country carries many scars from past sins. But there’s a truth about scars: only living things have them. They show that past wounds could not bring the end, that healing and restoration of life were possible. That is because there were selfless Americans willing to lay down their lives so that work could continue.
For nearly 250 years people have chosen to swear that oath and risk their lives to keep America safe so others could make America better – freer in the classical sense. We owe it to them to ensure the “continued survival and success of liberty” in our time. But how?
We can look to the example of unity we see in the fallen.
We’re spending this Memorial Day in Washington, hosting family visiting from Pennsylvania, and will be spending a few special hours at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.