Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
We are a people who love to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Baptisms, First Communions and Confirmations surrounded by family and friends. However, this pandemic has robbed us of our ability to gather together to mark these occasions and express our love, appreciation and good wishes to our relatives and friends. Some of these moments will be postponed, and hopefully will be celebrated soon. Other celebrations are lost because the moment is too difficult to recapture.
In May, we turn our attention to our graduates, and although I am grateful to the number of creative ideas attempted through the use of yard signs, signs in the windows, web postings, technology and social media to offset this strange situation, it really isn’t the same. What is missing are the hugs and the kisses, the smiles and the tears, the sharing of memories and the pledges of keeping in touch, and the thank you’s to favorite teachers and administrative staff. Besides, what has been denied to most graduates is the closure that graduation brings to the ending of one aspect of a young man or woman’s life and the anticipatory beginning of a new moment.
On a normal Memorial Day celebration, I would have been invited to offer an invocation at a memorial or cemetery site dedicated to our soldiers and sailors who have sacrificed their lives in defense of the country. Bands would have played patriotic songs, an address would have been presented concerning the role of America in the pursuit of freedom, and a bugle would have played “Taps.” It’s a reminder that our strength as a society depends upon our national will, demonstrating our resolve to do what is necessary to defeat any enemy that would endanger our democratic way of life.
When I became a chaplain in the United States Army Reserve (USAR), I was already familiar with the military. My family had all served: father in the Marines, uncles and cousins in the Army, Marines and Navy. This was the family contribution to World War II and Vietnam. Their motivations for joining would all have been different, but they were collectively proud to represent the country, and I know they would have, if necessary, died fulfilling their responsibility to defend the interests of the nation and our way of life.
As a chaplain, I often questioned my personal resolve to serve amid conflict. I knew of the resolve of my family and friends in other conflicts, but have I and others of later generations grown “soft” in our understanding of what it takes to maintain the freedoms that our citizenship enjoyed? That answer was resolved when I was activated for Desert Storm I.
I prepared for deployment, was trained for going into a Middle East country, and was issued desert camouflage. Life Magazine sent a reporter to follow me the last weekend before I was to leave. My unit (244th Aviation) had not been activated, but I was because of the great need for Catholic chaplains. The day I was scheduled to leave, the land war started, and I was frozen in place. The war had ended so quickly that I was deactivated, and my desert uniform remained in my closet. However, I did know that I was ready and would have done what was necessary to serve our country during this time of conflict. I also knew that the young soldiers who I was privileged to serve with had that same resolve to defend our country with their lives, if necessary.
In some sense, it feels like we are presently in the midst of a conflict, a type of war not of our making, but one which definitely takes lives and demands sacrifice from us. So, as we put aside our celebrations for the time being and follow restrictions and guidelines, we do so to demonstrate our resolve to defend and protect our freedoms in solidarity with the men and women who have defended this country that we love. May all sacrifices that we make fulfill our commitment to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the May 26, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.