Father Mark, Reflections

A Picture Moves One to Silence-Not A Thousand Words

U.S.S. Braine after Kamikaze attack, 27 May 1945

OK. Yesterday was Memorial Day. No, I didn’t get my days mixed up. This is intentional.

Every Memorial Day, I review previously classified black and white footage of the kamikaze attack off Okinawa on 27 May 1945 when two of them crashed into the destroyer, U.S.S. Braine 75 years ago tomorrow. What you see left of the second forward turret was my Uncle Raymond’s station. The force of the kamikaze crash evidently blew the rest of the turret into the sea with Raymond because his body was never found.

What does any of this have to do with a spiritual journal that I’m writing on a church website? And what does something that happened 75 years ago to someone I never met or you didn’t know matter? Plenty. I only knew Raymond through the stories of my family. My father gave me the photo of the ship and Ray’s obit before he died.

Let me take you back further in time than this. Let’s take the Time Machine back to Runnymeade, England on June 15, 1215 when King John bowed to pressure to recognize a number of liberties to subjects by becoming subject to a rule of law himself. The result: granting liberties to free men. The Magna Carta influenced the writing of the U.S. Constitution 500 years later.

Before the Magna Carta or Constitution, Jesus of Nazareth realized that freedom was a God given gift, written into the fabric of creation. Jesus offered a higher spiritual realm of life that wasn’t in this world, but was to be lived out in the world. As a Jew, Jesus recognized than earth and its material domain reflected a Divine Order in creation, later labeled “Natural Law” by philosophers.

Jesus brought the spiritual realm into the material world so that we could live both out simultaneously. Liberty in the spiritual realm is freedom from separation from God a.k.a. sin, and union with God. Liberty in the human realm realizes the sacredness and sovereignty of each individual to make their own choices, to discover their purpose, vocation and spiritual call in life within the boundaries of a Rule of Law. If the Rule of Law is congruent with Natural Law, then all have the Liberty to develop into responsible adulthood, offering their gifts to serve the world and enjoying the fruits of their labor. When we choose to live outside the boundaries of law, suffering follows. Freedom doesn’t offer an egalitarian guarantee of equal outcome. Liberty means that we have the freedom to choose our path. Liberty requires self-responsibility.

Jesus blends the spiritual life with everyday life. Raymond and thousands of others gave their lives to protect the sacredness and sovereignty of the individual person to live out the God-given gift of Liberty against the evil forces that were attempting to deny that Liberty. Liberty means that no one acts as a god in another person’s life, controlling their lives. This is to treat a human being like an object which violates both spiritual law and the Rule of Law. Of course vigilance is required to maintain the system of law within the boundaries of Natural Law.

I am presenting Raymond’s story as one of many, to make the point that remembering those who gave their lives so that we might live (Jesus: Greater love has no one than this, that he lay his life down for his friend John 15. Our military gives their lives for us whom they don’t even know!). I do this because I fear that we compartmentalize Memorial Day. A brief observance followed by festivities often forgets the sacrifices made the next day. This is a reminder that we’re free today because of what Raymond and others did years ago. The veterans sacrifice keeps on giving us freedom only when we are conscious enough of the fact that we must step up to maintain our liberties each day. We are standing on their sacrifice.

This is not forget the sacrifices endured by the families who have lost soldiers, sailors and airmen, creating great suffering. I won’t expand on this subject now.

Maintaining liberties takes many forms on a micro and macro scale. If I see an individual hampered, then it is my responsibility to discern if it is appropriate to stand up for this person’s liberty. Liberty on the macro scale means that we work to maintain Liberty in the systems of local, state and national organizations and government.

Unfortunately, evil does exist in the world, often in the seeking of power over others so take their Liberty from them–some overtly and others in many subtle and deceptive ways. Lord Acton said it right: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This evil is in direct conflict with Jesus’s Great Commandment, “To love God and our neighbors as ourselves.” So it is our responsibility to stand up to evil, not turn away from it. Raymond and the other veterans stood up to evil and looked it in the eye.

If only we can be as vigilant as they were, then we will continue to love our neighbor by birthing Liberty for us and for those who come after us.

Thanks Ray. I will try to live up to the gift of Liberty that God gives and for which you died to maintain. Help me never to forget.

In Christ’s Redemptive Peace,

Fr. Mark