“Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate.” This is one translation of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as St. Luke records it. Luke especially stresses the mercy of God and the central work of the Holy Spirit, who is the very love of God made visible in Jesus, the Son of God sent by the Father, to bring peace.
On Monday, we observe Memorial Day, a national holiday, and for many, the “beginning of summer.” As we gather with family, or travel, or just enjoy a day off, it is essential that we also take some time that day in particular to remember those who served, lived, and died in the Armed Forces to preserve the freedom we enjoy across many generations, through many conflicts. As we think of our own loved ones who are deployed around the world, near and far, we pray for them and we are reminded deeply of the great sacrifices that liberty requires.
The war in Ukraine, unrest in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, the Mid- East, Haiti, and growing tensions between many nations and within countries and communities rightly trouble us with how elusive peace is in our world. Sadly, each generation remembers those fallen in combat and the lasting wounds to bodies, memories, and souls from past and ongoing conflicts. My dad served in the U.S. Army Air Corps (then Army Air Force, and finally Air Force) from 1942-52, in Florida, California, England, and Japan. He was a mechanic, mostly on B-17s, B-29s, P-51s, and his clear favorite, the P-47. He told us many stories about his friends, his work, what he learned and what he missed about home. But only once that I recall did he speak, with a catch in his voice and a rare sorrow in his face, about the pilot of the plane he crewed that was shot down and did not return.
Of all those stories about a decade of service, that moment is etched in my memory. Perhaps he wanted to spare us the darker side of war and the tragedies and sorrows it brings. But it helped me come to understand in a new way why flying a small American flag from the garage on Memorial Day and July 4 was so meaningful to him, why he valued responsibility and sacrifice, why a man who did not commonly write many letters kept up a faithful correspondence with friends from the Air Force decades later.
Compassion literally means to suffer with another. It takes many forms in family and work and service to help those in human need. Protecting peace, order, and the rights of those who are caught up in conflicts they do not desire and do not choose is also a form that compassion takes in an imperfect world. It is a noble service when pursued with a genuine desire to bring security, healing, and freedom; and it always comes at a cost that is incalculable for each it affects. We honor that cost in gratitude, prayer, and striving to be peaceful and just in our daily interactions. (Ministry & Life Perspectives Continued)
Memorial Day this year fittingly falls on the day after the Ascension of the Lord. In his compassion, Jesus came to bring us hope and trust that the crosses we experience in life can be transformed by God’s love into the promise of new and perfect life. He goes ahead of us, bringing our human nature into the permanent presence of God.
United with him as members of his Body, we are able to live in compassion sustained by that promise. Jesus returns to “the right hand of the Father,” as Scripture says; not a movement from place to place, leaving us behind, but an expression of his unfailing presence in all the places and times of human history. The Preface for this feast puts it succinctly: “he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”
What will you do this week to show compassion to another?