Gott mit uns

Gott mit uns

Pope Francis spoke to soldiers recently saying: “The world needs you, especially at this dark moment in our history. We need men and women of faith capable of putting weapons at the service of peace and brotherhood.” Like most of us, I recognize that the freedoms I enjoy today were bought at a high price by generations past. Thank you veterans.

I guess I must be standing in a different place on Earth these days for I seem to be reflecting on the world differently than in my past years. While I salute our veterans, I wondered if it was appropriate to do so at Mass. War is a result of our bad decisions, not God’s. Certainly, we pray for the souls of our loved ones departed, but in mentioning our veteran’s sacrifice, shouldn’t the emphasis at Mass still always remain on Christ?

This notion hit me after I heard a homily that weekend by a priest reminding his congregation that during World War II, and long before, German soldiers wore belt buckles inscribed with the phrase “Gott mit uns” (God with us). War is a time where often both sides are appealing to God to get through it. Veterans on both sides wanted to get home again to their families. Perhaps, this should raise concerns about the appropriateness of flag processions during Mass. Our Eucharistic celebration should not glorify war or specific nations but honor the sacrifice of all fallen soldiers. The day should call for honoring and praying for the souls of the deceased, regardless of their nationality or the historical context surrounding their service. In war, everyone loses.

Few can argue that the World War II era produced America’s “greatest generation.” Not enough of us acknowledge that Vietnam produced America’s most cheated generation. In Vietnam, men were drafted into a war that few believed in or more importantly, were willing to die for. And yet, they went. Like in all wars, our soldiers served in Vietnam. They sacrificed in Vietnam. For what?

Our Catholic theology teaches that sacrifice is a noble act that mirrors Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This provides an opportunity to honor and remember fallen soldiers, recognizing their selflessness and dedication to their country. This faith entails our shared humanity and spiritual bond that unites all people, regardless of nationality. Our prayers must reflect upon the cost of war. Our faith demands us to be a people committed to peace and justice. Never are we to blindly accept the devastating consequences of armed conflicts. In Christ, we can never neglect the human toll of war – on both sides. We must always first desire peace and reconciliation among nations.

Do our Memorial Day celebrations challenge us to work towards a world where the sacrifice of soldiers becomes unnecessary? Does our Eucharistic celebration foster in us a willingness to work for a culture of peace and reconciliation in our homes, our neighborhoods, our surrounding communities… for waring nations? Doesn’t this demand we work to end the strife in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and the rest of our world? Our faith demands action. How do we respond in this regard?

Memorial Day is a solemn occasion when we remember and honor the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. As Catholics, we gather at Mass to commemorate this day, seeking to strike a balance between acknowledging the sacrifice of soldiers and keeping our primary focus on the Sacrifice of Christ. It is a tough balance when the faces become real, when family is directly involved and when memories of loved ones who didn’t come home begin to surface. Yet, is that not what Christ asks of us?

As the highest form of worship in our Catholic tradition, the Eucharist is celebrated as the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is crucial to emphasize that the Sacrifice of Christ is the primary focus of any Mass, as it is through His sacrifice that we are redeemed and offered eternal life. This central aspect should never be overshadowed or diminished by any other commemoration, including that for our soldiers. Yet, it is a time that can bring understanding on how the selflessness exhibited by soldiers mirrors the self-giving love of Christ to bring peace to families wounded by war.

Despite differing political beliefs held by soldiers on opposing sides of armed conflicts, many shared a common faith in God. Soldiers on both sides often seek to find solace and strength in their faith during times of war. We must be challenged to acknowledge there were Christians on both sides of many wars. Did our faith fail us, or did we fail to live our faith in Christ? War is a sign of weakness in humanity, not strength. Families on both sides unjustly suffer. Innocent on both sides die. In war, we see the worst of man, the worst of his technology and the worst of our failure to value life. Nobody won that day when the B-29 bomber named Enola Gay left its base to fly over Hiroshima.  August 6, 1945 may have signaled an end to a horrific war, but it also signaled how horrific man can be in the resulting loss of life. We won that day. We lost that day, too.

God’s love and mercy extends to all people, regardless of what side of a war they are on. God did not create life to enable others to needlessly destroy it. Memorial Day must remind us not only of sacrifice but our shared humanity and faith that soldiers on both sides of the war held dear.

Let our Memorial Day Masses promote peace by fostering a spirit of reconciliation and unity. We must truly discern what Christ’s call to love one another truly demands of us. Let us see that in our failing heed our faith, too many veterans never made it home. Mass on Memorial Day can serve as a powerful reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made for the sake of others, by Christ and, mirrored by veterans. Never again may we fail to see the importance of working towards a more harmonious world.

No more Gott mit uns , but Gott ist mit uns. God is with all of us.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster