Today is Memorial Day. Today, Americans will honor and remember patriots who lost their lives fighting for freedoms we hold dear. Other nations honor their heroes in a similar way.
In my family, we experienced Memorial Day through the eyes of my grandfather, who fought in World War II. As the navigator, his B-24 air crew relied on him to guide them during bombing raids then back to their airbase in England with the use of celestial navigation, sextant, and compass — long before GPS. Even into his 80s, I remember my grandfather’s eyes sadden as he shared stories of young men he knew who never returned home to their families.
It was a phenomenon I didn’t quite grasp until I served in Iraq. As a civilian in a war zone, I worked alongside the U.S. Military, as well as servicemen from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland. Instead of hearing stories safely from afar, I had an upfront view watching America’s Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines serve in a dusty and violent environment.
As in any war, some friends and colleagues did not return. Some were fellow civilians, but most wore a military uniform. Like my grandfather, I remember them. Their sacrifices make me grateful for the life I live and spur me to fight harder to protect America, her freedoms, and her values.
On Memorial Day, how should we honor men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice? Remember these brave heroes. Know their names. Tell their stories. Pray for the families left behind. Do you know anyone who lost a family member or friend to war? Call or write a note. Not sure what to say? You’d be surprised how much a simple sentence (“I’m thinking about you and your loved one today”) means to a family, who will be comforted in knowing they are not forgotten.
Perhaps attend a daily Mass on Memorial Day to thank the Lord for our country and freedoms, for in the words of President George Washington: “all nations” have a “duty…to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God…[in] grateful[ness] for His benefits” while “implore[ing] His protection and favor.”
In addition, demonstrate old-fashioned patriotism. Put a crisp new flag out front. Better yet, put a flag in your backyard as well. I am sure readers are already doing such things. This year, let’s double our efforts to show neighbors how much we love the USA — perhaps living close to swampy Washington, DC drives my family to make dramatic patriotic statements!
Here’s the thing though — Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans’ Day should not be thought about on just one day. Rather, let’s strive to remember the reason for these days more often. In the process, teach children about America and how, as President Ronald Reagan said, this “blessed land was set apart…[by a] divine plan” and a courageous “people…who had a special love for freedom.”
From an early age, educate children why America is “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Eager and interested, children are never too young to hear about our great republic. Show how our country works by the family volunteering at the local election level. (We’ve seen the ramifications of bad school boards and district attorneys.)
Share family stories of valor, sacrifice, and service to our Nation, so the next generations know their family heritage of stepping forward for America. Let your children see you often thanking veterans (and police officers). Listen to the stories of veterans in your church and neighborhood. Visit a national cemetery, so children better understand the vast number of Americans whom sacrificed so much, and then as General George Patton said, “thank God that such men lived.”
Finally, and most importantly, pray for America. If you call another country home, then pray for your nation. Does it feel the cacophony grows louder from those who would force us to forgo Biblical values? Their noise is not greater. Be assured prayers, even those whispered in our hearts, reverberate loudly to Almighty God. We are armed with what man cannot see — prayer to the “living God,” and St. Peter assures us God’s “ears are attentive to [our] prayer.” [i] [ii]
Do you wonder if prayer can push back against the deluge of evil encompassing the United States? When Pope St. John Paul, II boldly visited Poland in 1979, during the Soviet Union’s iron grip on Eastern Europe, he told the Polish people: In “ardent prayer for…victory of the moral order in this difficult epoch of our history…you must be strong with the strength that comes from faith.” His words ring true for us today. Be confident “it is the Lord [our] God who fights for [us].” [iii]
Are you tired of waiting for God to intervene? After St. John Paul’s speech in 1979, it took more than a decade for the Polish to finally gain freedom. God’s timing is not our timing. Although frustrating to wait, God has His purposes. Trust Almighty God, who declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts…My ways [are] higher than your ways.” [iv]
Do you worry that you should schedule prayer times, pray longer, or pray more often? While worthwhile goals, know our Heavenly Father welcomes His children whenever they “call…and pray” to Him, for He “will listen to you.” [v]
Perhaps, a news story leaves you so distressed you don’t know what to pray? Last week’s Pentecost Sunday readings provide a perfect answer. Simply cry out to God, for “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” when “we do not know what to pray,” and “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” [vi]
As we fervently pray for America, take comfort that Bible heroes also felt overwhelmed. When the Prophet Jeremiah faced defeat on all sides, he turned to God for strength, proclaiming, “the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior, so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.” [vii]
If you need further inspiration and encouragement, take a look at Fr. Richard Heilman’s efforts with Grace Force, where he leads rosaries and prayer campaigns for America.
Learn from America’s warriors. With determination and fortitude, they fought — and continue to fight — with courage against overwhelming odds. Then, take up the mantle of prayer warrior. Honor America’s heroes with your prayers for the Nation and resolutely “pray without ceasing.” [viii]
On Memorial Day — and each day — remember the heroes who sacrificed and the hero families living without loved ones. From America’s War of Independence to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, more than 1.3 million men and women lost their lives defending America and our freedoms. [ix] If you are a family member impacted by such a loss, we honor you and your loved one.
In the words of John Adams, “You will never know how much it has cost…to preserve your freedom…I hope you make a good use of it.”
Let’s “make a good use of it” by becoming prayer warriors for the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Pray for America. Pray for the nation where you live.
[i] Hebrews 10:31
[ii] Peter 3:12
[iii] Joshua 23:10
[iv] Isaiah 55:8-9
[v] Jeremiah 29:12
[vi] Romans 8:26
[vii] Jeremiah 20:11
[viii] 1 Thessalonians 5:17
[ix] U.S. Army Military History Institute
Hilary F. Collins lives in northern Virginia with her family. She graduated from Baylor University, received a master’s degree from the U.S. Naval War College, and is now a homeschooling mom. Along with her husband, they attend church in the Arlington Diocese and strive to instill godly knowledge and faithful fortitude in their child.