Love and Sacrifice
My first real glimpse into American patriotism and sacrifice came on a family vacation in August of 1990 when I was just four years old. Our family vacations were always done road-trip style, and our trip to Florida that summer was was our first big one. On the long drive home we encountered tons of military vehicles traveling to various military bases. We knew something big was happening - this wasn’t just your average drill weekend. Without social media and the constant connection to everything going on in the world, we had no idea that the U.S. had just entered the Gulf War, in response to Iraq invading Kuwait. I remember my parents tone indicating the seriousness of the situation and the very likely reality that some of those men would never return home. In those eight months, the number of American casualties rose to about 150. Those men sacrificed their lives for a cause beyond themselves.
Over the last few years I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet military members through various connections, one of them being my husband. In the process of dating and marrying Brandon, I have grown in respect and deep appreciation for the sacrifices that our armed forces make for us and for our nation. The patriotic holidays that we celebrate or commemorate as a nation, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day in particular, now more than ever, give me cause for reflection and thanksgiving. While the Church teaches that war should be a last resort, times of war stir up in man heroic courage, allowing them to make sacrifices that conjure up images of Christ-like sacrifice. After all, it was Christ who said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).
Christ gave up his life for the greatest cause; he died for our salvation. Many soldiers over the years have given up their lives for another great cause - our freedom and in many cases, so other men could live. Just like Christ, they didn’t simply surrender in the face of danger or a challenge and let themselves be killed. Christ fought using prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, ultimately knowing that the only way to bring about our salvation, was for him to sacrifice his very life. There are stories upon stories of soldiers who didn’t just surrender but kept fighting, kept attending to the needs of their fellow man, and in the case of many great military chaplains, they prayed and simply stayed with their men until they physically could not, usually because they were killed. If you’re interested in reading about 12 of those military chaplains, this is a great article. It talks about two of my favorites - Fr. Capodanno, affectionately known by his men as the “Grunt Padre,” and Fr. Kapaun who now has his case open for being declared a saint in the Church. These men understood the true meaning of sacrifice is rooted in love, which in its purest form is to will the good of the other for the sake of the other. Love is so much more than a feeling - if it’s true and pure, it should want what’s best for someone or something else.
While most of us will never have to sacrifice our physical lives for others, we are still called to sacrifice. Our baptism brings us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and we are therefore brought into Christ’s mission. He calls us to help bring others to him and to eternal life. In that mission, we are to continue his work as “Priest, Prophet, and King.” As the eternal high priest, Christ offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to the Father. We are called to offer ourselves as a daily spiritual sacrifice to God. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m really bad at making sacrifices when I can’t see the direct result or impact. My life as a military wife requires me to give some things up - for example, having dinner every night with my husband because he works second shift, or knowing that one day he’ll probably be deployed. Those sacrifices are tough, however I do them because I love my husband and he loves me - we know that this is what’s best for us.
When it comes to Lent or giving things up throughout the year, I often find myself justifying what I gave up because it’s a comfort (usually coffee in some form). But this often makes me think of my great-grandma, who would always say, “Offer it up!” when we were complaining about something. And while we thought it was just an annoying thing that she said, it truly had deeper meaning. Offering up a little suffering in prayer, is a great way to sacrifice for a greater good. Perhaps we can offer up that prayer for a friend who is sick, asking our sacrifice to help bring them healing.
As a way to commemorate Memorial Day this year, and all of the sacrifices that have been made for your freedom and salvation, try doing these things:
- Make a direct effort to live out your priestly mission! Think of ways you can “offer up” your daily struggles, sufferings or trials for a reason bigger than yourself
- Pray for the gift of Fortitude. This gift of the Holy Spirit helps us to pursue holiness in our actions. It’s the strength and power of God that helps us to endure pain and suffering in our daily lives.
- Pray for our Troops. This link provides you with a number of different options, based on circumstances.
- Show respect and honor to our flag and our veterans. This means putting your hand over your heart during the National Anthem, not talking during it, taking your hat off, etc. Those colors should remind us of the freedom we have in our country - which does not mean being able to do whatever we want, but rather being able to do what is right.
- Watch the movie Hacksaw Ridge. It’s rated “R” so make sure you have your parent’s permission and keep in mind that it is rather graphic. However, it tells the story of Desmond Doss, who single-handedly saved the lives of at least 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa. While he wasn’t killed, his story is definitely one of great sacrifice and great courage.
So this weekend, as the brats are on the grill and we’re thankful to not have to go to work or school on Monday, think of these lyrics from a little band called Mumford and Sons, “...where you invest your love, you invest your life.” Loving often requires sacrifice, but sacrifice helps us invest in eternal life.