November 11th is significant for Americans and Poles. This day is the traditional observance of Veteran’s Day (or for students of history, Armistice Day). On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, 1918 a truce was declared ending the First World War. The celebration of this holiday eventually came to be known as Veteran’s Day. Like Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day is the time when we pause to give thanks to all who have served in the armed forces, many of whom sacrificed their limbs. We also pause to remember those who gave their lives in defense of freedom and we pray for those who still serve our country around the world that they may be protected from harm.
On that same day, after 123 of having been partitioned between the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia and Russia, Poland was a free country. Prior to World War II and since the collapse of Communism in 1989, the Polish nation has celebrated its independence. Like our Fourth of July, November 11th is a day of great celebration in Poland.
The readings for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time tie into these commemorations because they remind us that for a nation to truly be strong, it must take care of its most vulnerable. We need to attend to the needs of those who go without food or shelter. We need to participate in helping our government to function by voting and paying taxes. We need to get involved to protect our freedoms and beliefs, lest they be taken from us.
The widow, insignificant as people thought she was, nonetheless became a symbol for being a concerned citizen. Her “mite,” small as it was, is an example of equal participation. I’m sure like most people, she didn’t want to pay the tax, but she did. Her “two cents” probably wasn’t even needed, but she paid it anyway. It was her way of being a full, active, conscious participant in the civic process. I’m sure that she could have said, “The government owes me” or “I’m too poor to pay” or “What good will this do?” But she didn’t. She took out of her want, out of her poverty, and tried to make a difference.
She had the freedom to make a choice and she exercised that freedom. Because of her generosity, Jesus blessed her. In the Kingdom of God, each person, from the most powerful and wealthy to the most poor and disenfranchised is significant in the eyes of God. Each person has value. Each person has worth. Each person has dignity.
This is why we honor Veterans. This is why we fight for freedom. This is why we are concerned about each and every person, regardless of their station in life. Because each person matters from the moment of conception to the moment of death.
These words from the Canadian poet John McCrae illustrate why we pause this day and pray for those who have given their lives in defense of our freedom to be the children God has called us to be:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.