By Fr. Glenn Jones:
And so we come to Memorial Day weekend again and remember those who have died in our service, not only to our nation, but to our states and all local communities … those who go forth by night and day, in sun, rain or snow, often not certain whether they will return. That’s something we, the served, don’t consider enough, I think. When the soldier boards the helo, straps on a parachute or trusts himself to the rappelling line even in peacetime, he knows that lots of things can go tragically wrong. And then … multiply the risk when he/she is in a combat zone. And yet the same is true for many first responders. Each time that policeman goes out, he has no idea what will face him/her that day—the drugged-up robber with a gun, the traffic-stopped heroin trafficker, the blindly-furious domestic abuser, or even a blown tire which could send him careening into a concrete barrier during a high-speed chase. Or the firefighter caught under a collapsed burning structure. These dangers which they—and many others—face daily while serving us deserves respect.
This day we remember Jesus’ teaching: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) So we pray that all who have given their lives in service rest in the joyful and eternal embrace of God. And copious thanks to all of you who scarcely hesitate to put yourselves in danger every day. May God bless you now and always.
But WHY do first responders volunteer for service? It’s certainly not for “big bucks”, great working hours or—especially these days—the idea of being showered with gratitude. What drives those who serve TO serve?
Well, in answering that question you’d likely get more varying responses than there are those who serve. But philosophers argue that, in the end, every action that we take is done so in the individual’s pursuit of ever-elusive happiness.
I’ve been reading “The Consolation of Philosophy” by the ancient philosopher Boethius—actually quite a readable text as it is written as a poetic dialogue between the author and the “nurse” of philosophy, exploring deeper topics of life—topics that we scarcely even consider in our day of perpetual external stimuli. But in discussing happiness—the ultimate good and goal of all—Boethius’ nurse defines it as the state in which nothing more is desired.
Humans, our nurse wisely observes, mistakenly seek happiness by pursuing wealth, pleasure, power, and fame. But the acquisition of, and dependence upon, these things engenders fear—that of losing them. And so she states: “…nature is satisfied with little, whereas nothing satisfies greed…riches create a want of their own.” Boethius subsequently pens:
Though wanton gold-lust urge the rich man on
To reap in wealth that cannot sate his greed
Though ponderous Persian pearls bow down his head
And oxen by the score his acres tread,
Each day he lives with gnawing care he’ll ache,
And dead, his fickle fortunes him forsake.
It is likewise for the other faulty paths—the seeking of fame, position, power, beauty, pleasure. Once acquired, there is unrelenting fear of their loss. Note the huge market for health and beauty products and services, the jealous defenses of reputation, the criminal methods of many politicians to be—and remain—elected or in power.
So true happiness cannot be found in something that can be taken away, as fear of loss in itself causes unhappiness. Thus happiness must lie in that which cannot be taken away—in truth, in wisdom … and in love.
The soldier or police officer himself may not think of his/her service in expressly those terms, but love is the foundation of all real service … the willingness to sacrifice self for the good of others. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “love” was the seeking of the good of the other person, and thus true and sincere service IS love—love of persons, love of good. The officer puts his life on the line to prevent harm to others, as does the firefighter and the soldier. As does the social worker, the “doctor without borders”, the nurse volunteer, and all who give of their time and talent for others—either for no, or for disproportionately small, reward. How much is it worth for a cop to save your daughter from being kidnapped and trafficked, after all, or a SEAL mission to go save her? A heck of a lot more than what they’re paid! And yet … they do such day in, day out. “It’s the job”, they might quip. Yes, there are “bad apples” and bad examples, but the vast majority serve with dedication and sincerity. Why else do it?
The fact that service stems from love hardly surprises us. Parents do it every day as well—24/7 service to their children. But most of all we see it in Jesus, who declares that He Himself came not to be served, but to serve. He who IS love served most tremendously of all, giving His life for the world. So, when we serve, we reflect Jesus’—God’s—own love. We imitate love itself. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
So, on this Memorial Day week, let us thank those who serve us, and remember always those who gave their lives so that we might enjoy the blessings of the freedoms and security that we enjoy and take so much for granted.
I will always do my duty
No matter what the price
I’ve counted up the cost
I know the sacrifice
Oh, and I don’t want to die for you
But if dyin’s asked of me
I’ll bear that cross with honor
’Cause freedom don’t come free
I’m an American soldier, an American
Beside my brothers and my sisters
I will proudly take a stand
When liberty’s in jeopardy
I will always do what’s right
I’m out here on the front lines
sleep in peace tonight
I’m an American soldier
(“An American Soldier” by Toby Keith)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.