Another priest I consider to be orthodox and traditional in his general outlook has let down those who follow him on Face Book. In a Memorial Day post, he said, referring to those who have died in battle, “They’re all saints, in my book.”
Now, I have no problem honoring and remembering those who died in military service to our country. I do object to sloppy sentimentalism and premature beatification of these valiant souls en masse. I object to the failure to remember that not every soldier died in a state of grace, and that while each one may have been a hero here on earth, he has now faced the judgment of God and is in heaven, hell, or purgatory; and he (or she) needs our prayers.
In other words, they are not all saints – that is practically a guarantee.
A couple of years ago, I became interested in watching World War II documentaries (and a few on World War I as well). The carnage…horrifying. Then there’s the sheer numbers of deaths, the untold suffering of soldiers and civilians, and the almost unbearable reality that many souls went to hell. That’s what hit me as I watched some of the scenes of dying combatants – those black-and-white grainy images were all the more terrifying for their lack of modern technology. Young men died, and probably most were not prepared for that eventuality, even though intellectually they knew it was a possibility, even a probability.
And really, not all of those who died were heroes. Not all were there willingly, and some were cowards who died as a result of their cowardice rather than their bravery. Some probably caused others’ deaths in order to avoid death themselves. To me, Memorial Day is not so much about individual souls who gave their lives, but more about the concept that others died so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today. And given the rapid erosion of those freedoms in today’s society, it becomes all the more imperative to remember that once upon a time, people felt it was necessary to be willing to die for those freedoms we are so casually throwing away today.
But there are individuals. We can honor and remember those we knew of personally who were war heroes, and remember their very names. I’m sure many died whose names are not even known among the living today. But all of those souls are eternal, and some have not yet made it to Heaven, despite their acts of heroism in war. The greatest honor we can give them, I think, is to pray for their release from purgatory and their entrance into their eternal reward.
Priests, of course, are able to lead us in prayer for the dead most efficaciously through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and I imagine a lot of them did just that on Memorial Day. Thanks be to God!
But please, Fathers, do not tell the congregation before you that all of those who died in war are now in Heaven. That is just not true. And saying such a thing prevents people from praying for the dead, which is an injustice in itself.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.