Memorial Day 2021

By Felix Carroll

On the playground, when a push comes to a shove, children get sent to the principal. For nations, when a push comes to a shove, graveyards become crowded.

June begins in the echo of "Taps" played on Memorial Day on May 31, when we gather around flag-spangled gravestones to solemnly honor fallen soldiers killed after a push came to a shove. At some point before or after the shell casings clank to the ground from the rifle volleys and the hotdogs are digested, the parents of young children have the unenviable obligation to sort through some mixed messages.

Specifically, we tell our children not to fight, and yet here we are honoring those who fought. How do we reconcile that?

Moreover, it's worth noting that Father's Day falls a few weeks later, on June 20, which means the stakes are doubly high for us to get our stories straight, to pass on fatherly wisdom about weighty matters such as life and death, war and peace, turning cheeks and fighting creeps. And, my fellow fathers (not to put further pressure upon you), kindly note that the Gospel reading this June 14, just a few days before Father's Day, is from Matthew 5:38-42 — not one you'll likely hear at Memorial Day services.

In the reading, Jesus says to His disciples, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well."

All that said, follow along with me as I attempt to get my story straight:

Terror and disorder run freely in the land. Evil flourishes. But Jesus teaches how we are to respond to evil. We are to transcend it. What does that entail? First and foremost, fight it by growing in mercy. We can and must conquer evil with the power of good. As St. Faustina writes, "the efforts of Satan and of evil men are shattered and come to naught" when we draw our strength from, and model ourselves upon, the Merciful Savior (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1789).

But, but, but — you see the conundrum, right? Were we to have turned the other cheek to the Nazis? To terrorists today bent on destroying us? To that schoolyard bully who has a knee on our neck? Well, no. Sometimes it's dangerous to not return a push with a shove (see Catechism, 2309). Sometimes we must shove for the better good.

So what I chose to tell my son several years ago were the very things I know to be true. Namely:

•• Bad guys exist; but love them anyway;

•• sometimes you have to put up your dukes, but rage leads to ruin; and

•• the glare of righteous victory will never outshine the dignity of the fallen soldier.

"And, Son," I told him, "understand that if your hands are forced and if a push comes to a shove, then your shove must coincide with a prayer for peace."

I hastened to add, "And for goodness sakes, protect your face."

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