On Memorial Day, we honor all military personnel and veterans of all services in all the wars, conflicts and peacekeeping missions, who died in active military service. We applaud their service. We acknowledge the debt we owe to those risked their lives so that we have the freedom to live in peace. We reach for the memory of peace and keep it close.

Ahh, Death, thy drink is bitter.

The men and women who sacrificed their lives while in military service were committed to protect the lives of their fellow citizens. They wrestled with death to protect and create a culture of life back home. We remember them on Memorial Day because they faced death far too soon to give us a life of peace.

The opening prayer contains a plea to God to "banish violence from our midst." Violence invites death; it blemishes a culture of life. A culture of life embraces peace. How can the memories we honor propel us towards peace? Nearly 25 years ago, the U.S. Bishops answered this question in this way: "a commitment to peace means promoting respect for life, human rights, justice, and non-violent ways to resolve disputes as the only firm foundations of a just society and international peace." They direct us to labor for life and peace rather than meditate on violence and death.

Peace is characteristic of a culture of life and promoting respect for life is characteristic of a culture of peace. As people of life and for life, we must work towards peace. We cannot champion peace if we are not also pro-life.

Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote, "We believe that the idea of Peace still is, and still must be, dominant in human affairs …" Pope Benedict added that “Peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible."

How is peace possible? Peace in the world starts with peace in the heart. As Saint Pope John XXIII wrote in Pacem in Terris, "The world will never be the dwelling place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every person." We must reconcile the cleavage between faith and action. 

Memorial Day underscores our call to action: to respect life, champion human rights, seek justice, and resolve disputes non-violently. May this Memorial Day bring us to seek peace and pursue it in our country.


Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Father Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.