As I sat in church today waiting for Mass to start, I reflected on how things were changing around me. The lead singer in the choir had an earring in both ears. Nice earrings, but I could remember back when this alone would have set off alarms bells. The lady two pews ahead was dressed very well, but I could not help but notice that her left arm was covered with a large tattoo from her elbow to her shoulder. Now I do not see much value in having a tattoo, but what I think is not popular today. There are so many generation gaps between me and the rest of society that I can’t begin to count them.
I wonder how many people in the church thought much about Memorial Day. Originally, it was called Decoration Day to honor the deceased union civil war dead. For years, many states in the South refused to celebrate “Memorial Day” and it was years before the day was rededicated to all Americans who had died in war. At the end of Mass, the choir sang America the Beautiful and, naturally, the majority of the congregation stumbled with the words. In my youth, America was consumed with the Second World War and it was nearly impossible for a family not to have been affected by the War. Industry stopped civilian production of many products, rationing limited rubber, steel, food and daily living changed. If you were lucky enough to have an automobile, gasoline was hard to get and you prayed your tires held out. Today, war seems to be part of our life. We fought in Iraq for years; we still fight in Afghanistan even on a limited basis, and our troops are stationed around the world long after the need for their presence appears necessary.
The population of the United States has doubled in my lifetime. However, our population is much more diverse today than when I was younger. I lived in a very segregated society. The only black people I knew worked manual labor jobs to remove trash from our neighborhood or repair roads. None of my classmates were black as well as none of my neighbors. As we look back today, everyone is quick to blame the people at that time but it was just the way things were. My grandfather worked in a manufacturing plant as did my dad and most of my relatives. America was a manufacturing giant. Made in America was stamped on everything. Today, this has changed. As cost accounting has taken over, a significant amount of manufacturing has left the United States for foreign shores.
Our Church has changed as well. We now live in an era of “closing” instead of “building.” Vocations, while showing signs of improvement, have drastically diminished from years past. My elementary school was staffed by nuns who lived in the convent next door. They dedicated their lives to the education of the children in the school. Several years ago that school was demolished. The local parish church I attended had a pastor and two assistants. Today, that same church is part of a “cluster” of parishes and there are no priests living in the rectory. Masses are said by a priest who rotates churches similar to a “mission” priest. He is an older man having had a change of life vocation.
I wonder what will happen to America in the years ahead. We are now so “liberal” that just about anything is possible. I feel sorry for transgender people but it disturbs me to see us changing our whole society for the benefit of so few individuals. The Supreme Court is not infallible as in the famous Dred Scott Case in March of 1857, they declared that “it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race was not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this Declaration.” Maybe wisdom will again take hold and Roe v. Wade will be reversed and the silent killing will stop. In the meantime, we will continue to live with abortion clinics, same-sex marriages, and a society where marriage is at best a casual undertaking and hardly a lifetime commitment.
This Memorial Day has been one where I have taken a few minutes to reflect. While the message of Christ has not changed in 2000 years, the people receiving it today appear to be less receptive.
DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati’s Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.