I went to St. Augustine school from grades one through eight. Every morning, our first class after Mass was religion. We felt fortunate to have instruction at school each day, unlike some kids who only received instruction through CCD class. We learned all the basic tenets of our faith. We learned about the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Sacraments. We learned most of the many rules espoused by the Catholic faith. We learned the lessons of the Epistles and the Gospels and there wasn’t a lot of discussion allowed. We were primarily there to listen and learn about our faith and questions weren’t really encouraged.
You can imagine how difficult that field of study combined with the stern attitude of the priest and sisters. Religion was pretty scary, too! I recall Sister Augustina once drawing an enormous eye on the blackboard while telling us, “This is the Eye of God. It is all seeing, all knowing and He sees everything you do.”
The only part of religion I eagerly anticipated on a regular basis was reading about the lives of the Saints and Martyrs. Those tales moved me to tears on so many occasions. I was devastated by the suffering they endured and shaken to the core to learn how these good men and women willingly sacrificed their lives. It was so horrible to realize most of these brave souls were persecuted, stoned, and killed in many terrible ways simply because of their faith.
On Monday, Memorial Day, we pause to remember the many military who have given their lives for a cause. You can find many estimates of the number of people who have lost their lives in service to our country. America’s War Casualties lists figures all the way back to the Revolutionary War and up through the year 2010 as we continue the Global War on Terror. The current administration has renamed this war: “Overseas Contingency Operation." I’m not inclined to talk politics, in fact, no one really knows if I am Democrat, Republican or Independent, but I have to tell you that term, “Overseas Contingency Operation," offends me. It denigrates the action of the people who have died by eliminating the word “war” and it minimizes the impact of an ongoing loss of life. It sounds like a business plan, not an effort where people die.
These men and women we remember on Monday are our Saints and Martyrs. They gave their lives for something they believed in and I hope each of us spends some time reflecting on those lives lost for us. Their families have given up sons and daughters, moms and dads, brothers and sisters. Our country is both strengthened and weakened by their loss. We are strengthened by knowing there are people who are willing to die for this country and our freedoms. We are weakened by the loss of potential, for how many leaders have perished? How many ideas will never be shared? How many great Americans will never be born because their ancestors were our heroes?
I hope someone, somewhere, is developing a field of study to educate our children about our own Saints and Martyrs. I hope the curriculum will include stories of the lives of our military, not just the dates and locations, the facts and figures, the expense and outcome of wars. Most of all, I hope children can still be moved to tears by stories of sacrifice and inspired to live their own lives as tribute to all who have fallen.