Read: "What Memorial Day means to me" by Father Mark Rutherford, Judicial Vicar, Archdiocese of the Military Services

Memorial Day, to me, is a solemn occasion to honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, writes Father Mark Rutherford, a priest of the Diocese of Lansing who is currently serving as Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, based in Washington, DC. Father Rutherford continues:

His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, JCD, Archbishop for the Military Services, underscored this significance during the Memorial Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception this morning.

In his homily, His Excellency reminded us, “Indeed we gather together... because we want to pray for those who have given time, talents, and even their lives in order to defend this country. The U.S. military has a proud history and has repeatedly paid the price to defend our Constitution, to further liberty, to fight aggression, to feed and shelter the needy, and to protect the downtrodden. This evening we pray in a special way for all of those who have completed their earthly journey and we beg Almighty God to be merciful to them and invite them into the fullness of life.”

He went on to describe how the U.S. military has a proud legacy, having consistently defended our Constitution, promoted liberty, fought against aggression, helped the needy, and protected the oppressed.

In light of His Excellency's message, Memorial Day also reminds me that the Catholic Church, in its 2000-year history, has always honored those who defended the rights and dignity of others. As Catholics in America, we should take time to pray and reflect on the meaning of life, liberty, and happiness.

Pope Saint John Paul II admired the moral and spiritual concerns of our Founding Fathers, and the blood and sacrifice they paid for that great value called “freedom.” This freedom, and the many men and women who have given their lives to protect it, deserve our celebration and honor.

This notion of freedom reminds me of the essence of the Catholic virtue of patriotism, which, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says, involves showing due love and honor to our country and fellow citizens, accompanied by a readiness to serve. Conversely, a lack of respect for one's country and its national symbols can become a sinful vice.

Today, as an expression of our patriotism, we might recite the Pledge of Allegiance together with our families. The phrase "freedom from oppression in order to be free to serve" resonates deeply, since, as Christians, we understand that true oppression is slavery to sin, and true freedom is found in a life surrendered to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. With this understanding, let us offer prayers for peace in Ukraine, the Holy Land, and all war-torn areas, entrusting these to Christ the King.