Monday, November 6, 2017

Mass of Remembrance for Veterans' Day

Mass of Remembrance for Veterans' Day
5 November 2017
Sir 44:1, 9-13
Ps 122:1-2, 4-5,6-7,8-9
Eph 4:30-5:2
Mt 5:1-12a

WW I:              Gallipoli, Verdun.
WW II:             Iwo Jima, Anzio, D-Day
Korea:            Inchon
Viet Nam:      Tet, the Fall of Saigon

The Gulf War and all the subsequent worldwide involvements.

The changes in the art and science of war, the way wars are fought, and the reasons underlying wars emerge from changes in society and in those who fight them.  Were any of the veteran's of the 26th Yankee Division--or any veteran's of WW I--alive today, it is unlikely that they would recognize anything about the way wars are fought or the way in which those who serve are trained and prepared for war. 

The philosophical and theological understandings of conflict and war have changed dramatically in the century since World Wars I and II.  It is unlikely that either "Over There," George M. Cohan's WW I song, or Frank Loesser's "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" of WW II vintage would be written today, or become the hits they were at the time.

Much has changed since the founding of the 26th Yankee Division one hundred years ago here in Massachusetts.  We commemorate those changes and the veterans of military service, including the recently discharged, who implemented and lived them. 

The WW I trenches, hand to hand combat, and bayonets were replaced by a powerful air force, and bombs with extraordinary destructive potential in WW II.  Today, missiles can be deployed via computer. There is a risk of sophisticated chemical and biological warfare.  All of these developments have changed the experience of those called to fight wars.

The response of American society to veterans has also changed. The ticker-tape parades and welcomes  given veterans returning from battle after World Wars I and II contrast sharply with the vitriolic ugliness dished out to veterans of Vietnam by so-called 'peaceniks.' And this is different from the sense of ho-hum that marks returning veterans today.  I will only comment on professional athletes  quote taking a knee unquote during the National Anthem by ignoring further comment.  This is sacred space.  There are some words and concepts that cannot be spoken here.

Wars define the generation that fought it and the generation that follows, the veterans' sons and daughters.  My dad, born in 1905, was too young for WW I.  However, during WW II he served four years in Europe as a physician in the Army medical corps.  Like many veterans, he rarely spoke about it, though a few years before he died, we had a few late night conversations on being a physician during war, conversations that I promised not to share with siblings or the rest of the family.

The four years I worked at the White River Junction VA before entering the Jesuits, were eye-opening and, at times, heart-rending. It was not, is not, and never will be, easy to serve.

The first reading from Sirach was an intentional choice.

"Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors,
each in his own time." 

Another version translates the verse differently:

"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers
in their generations."

Both translation are appropriate for this Mass.  Both translations describe the life and plight of the veteran, each in its own way.

"Now will I praise those godly men,
our ancestors . . . "

The sacrifices the veteran made--and will continue to make-- are oftentimes discounted or ignored.  Future plans, family life, education, jobs . . . all  of these are put on hold when one is called or volunteers to serve in the armed forces.  Injuries may short circuit some plans. The risk of death needs no elaboration.  Other times military service opens up previously undreamed of opportunities and paths of life.

"Let us now praise famous men
our fathers . . ."

The Revised Standard Version translation was used ironically as the title for a depression-era book of photos and essays by Walker Evans and James Agee.  The subjects were sharecroppers.  The irony is that the families were anonymous.  In fact their surnames were changed for the purposes of the book. Their fame was found only in that anonymity.  They were famous for their hiddenness. 

That is the plight of the one serving in the military and  the veteran.  Anonymity.  Hiddenness. The fame of the veteran is in the hiddenness of the veteran's service.  Doing a job day by day with little recognition or appreciation.

The Godly One.

The Anonymous One.

"Of others there is no memory . . .
Yet these also were godly men, . . .
their wealth remains in their families,
their heritage with their descendants"

It the task of us who are the descendants of the veterans, to keep their memories, and the narrative they shared with us alive.  And, by keeping those memories alive, we learn from them.  Take a look at the WW I memorabilia on display here. What was it like to carry that canvas backpack in battle?  What was it like packing it before shipping out?  What about the man to whom they belonged?

The Beatitudes are the most familiar portion of the much longer Sermon on the Mount.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God."

Sometimes peace can only be accomplished through war.  Peace may only be possible  when enemy threats from the outside are crushed in the fight.  Ideally swords will be pounded into plowshares and spears will be turned into pruning hooks. But at times plowshares must be forged again into swords and pruning hooks back into spears. 

The reality of the human condition is that we are sinners.  At times those sins manifest in actions that threaten the lives and safety of others.  At times those sins ignite the fuse that leads to war.  This has been true since the beginning of time and it will be true until the end of time.  Thus our gratitude to those who served.  Our thanks to the veteran who risked everything to ensure the safety and freedom we enjoy.

Paul instructs us that: All bitterness, fury, anger . . . reviling and malice must not find a home in our hearts. This is particularly true after the battle.  We are called to put the hostility toward the enemy aside and to work for reconciliation. We may never become buddies with our enemy but we can try to live in a state of cautious armistice.  That may be the only form of peace possible in this deeply troubled world.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God."

We thank them.

And we pray for them.

The Mass was held yesterday afternoon, Sunday 5 November, at St. Patrick Manor in Framingham.  It was nicely planned and executed, including a color guard, music, and dinner afterwards.  

The photos are from Boston College, my new home.  I took them before the BC-Florida State football game.  It was the firs time out with the new camera at night.  Am very pleased with the results.  

The Boston College Eagle in front of Gasson Hall.  It is a challenge to have one's photo taken with the eagle given that it is about 15 feet above the ground

Gasson Hall from the front facing Commonwealth Ave.  

The back of Gasson Hall. 

Tailgaters don't change much across schools.  

Nice touch. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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