May 24, 2014 – Two Focuses of the Weekend

This weekend we focus on two important observances.  As Americans we of course celebrate Memorial Day.  We remember all those who have given their lives in the defense of our nation, in the cause of freedom, in the pursuit of justice which leads to true peace. We remember all of the men and women who have fought in wars and other armed conflict throughout the history of this nation, from the very beginning to the current times. For most of us, the more recent memories include the Second World War and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, we remember all who have fallen and pray for them, asking the Lord to give them eternal life and peace.

We also remember those who have suffered the ravages of war, not just with the loss of life, but with bodily injury, like the loss of limbs or illnesses – scars that they must endure for the rest of their lives. We remember too those who are enduring emotional or psychological suffering because of what they experienced on the battleground. We must not forget the families of those men and women who were killed in action or who may be still missing in action, or who have been severely injured, bodily or emotionally. These families’ members grieve; they suffer. We remember.

As we remember, we express our gratitude: gratitude for the unselfish sacrifices these men and women have made to God, to country, and to us; gratitude for those who support and assist our veterans and their families; gratitude for the lessons they teach us about generosity, even to the giving of one’s life, about love of God and country, about securing justice which leads to peace.

As we remember and express gratitude, we also honor both those who have died and our veterans who are still with us. This is honor we express not only by erecting monuments and memorials, by placing flags on their graves, and by visiting cemeteries, but also by the respect and support we give to their loved ones who remain, and to our veterans and their families who live among us; by a sincere word of thank you, by our ongoing prayers, and by our own commitment to seek justice which leads to true and lasting peace.

As we enjoy our long weekend and the celebrations that go with it, let us remember the sacrifices of those who allow us to enjoy our celebrations and our time with our family and friends.

The other focus for us as Catholics is Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which is occurring today, tomorrow and Monday.  I watched bits and pieces of him landing in Jordan, celebrating Mass and holding a media event with the King of Jordan.  EWTN will be covering the papal events all weekend long, but they warn that schedules can run early or late, so the easiest thing to do is to go to, and check the updated schedules.  There are encore presentations of events if you miss the live ones.

Fifty years ago, in January 1964, soon-to-be Blessed Paul VI became a pilgrim, making an historic visit – the first by any pontiff since the earliest centuries of the Church – to Jerusalem and the Holy Land – or, as he put it, “This land where down through the centuries there resounded the voice of the prophets speaking in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” A little more than a year later, the decree Nostra Aetate was decreed by the Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic Church condemned anti-Semitism and pledged to work with love and respect in dialogue with Jews. These were groundbreaking events, crucial moments that transformed the Church and its relation to the Jewish people.

Now, 50 years later, Pope Francis becomes a pilgrim as he journeys to Israel, Jordan and Palestine. The relationship between Catholics and Jews has changed dramatically, thanks not only to the efforts of Paul VI, but also those of Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II and Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI. John Paul and Benedict both visited Israel and worked hard to continue to forge better relations with the Jews.  Saint John Paul’s 1986 visit to the Synagogue of the Chief Rabbi of Rome, and the moving image of him praying before the Western Wall in 2000 are indelible moments.

Pope Benedict’s 2009 pilgrimage to Israel, and his visits to synagogues in Rome, Cologne and New York, deepened the relationship we have established and nurtured during the past half-century. The work of these popes has further affirmed the principle that God’s covenant with the Jews was irrevocable, and that Judaism was essential to Christianity.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan had a great perspective on the purpose of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage, saying that “It is within this context, I believe, that Pope Francis’ trip must be viewed. He will travel as a pilgrim, whose actions, as much as his words, will demonstrate his desire to continue the path of dialogue and friendship that has been established. As his friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina, puts it, “I am convinced that this trip will usher in a new era in Jewish-Christian dialogue: the era of empathy.” What an uplifting thought, and so appropriate for this Holy Father, whose entire papacy has emphasized the need for the entire Church – including the pope – to be one with others. ”

Our prayer always, especially for this weekend, is that the witness of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, as well as our Pope, will lead us to a better appreciation of our freedom and will lead to more cooperative relations between warring factions.  Have a blessed and safe weekend, and a great week ahead.  Peace.





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