A blessed (and safe!) Memorial Day weekend to all. Please remember reverently those for whom Memorial Day is dedicated—those who have given their lives in the service of our nation. As mentioned here last week, there are few better descriptions of the ideal of dedicated service men and women than in General Douglas MacArthur’s last speech to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. If you want to have more of an “immersion” experience of Memorial Day, listen to the general’s speech, watch the video of Chris Stapleton’s national anthem from this year’s Superbowl, watch the movies “Taking Chance” and “Saving Private Ryan”, and walk through the gardens of stone at a national cemetery or even stop at the military markers in your local cemetery, remembering those who, as General MacArthur remarks, “gave all that mortality can give.” And finally, call that friend or loved one who serves or has served, especially those who have endured the various rigors and horrors of combat.
Of course, one of the most cherished and important freedoms protected in our nation is the freedom of religion, enshrined in the very first phrase of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” After all, what’s the point of trying to force someone into one’s own religion, for religion is a matter of mind, heart, conscience and faith. If one simply pretends to have faith to avoid persecution, that is simply under duress and harms the possibility of faith more than helps it. And, if you have to force someone to accept a faith, it really doesn’t recommend the religion very well, does it? Is not religion supposed to be based in truth? If you can’t convince a potential convert of its truth or even explain it oneself, one cannot but wonder how much truth it actually has, or whether its continuation is simply cultural adherence.
Many might protest: “Well, religions have forced others to convert in the past!” Well, yes … but religion, like a seedling, grows and develops, and cannot but be influenced alongside the development of then-current level of civilization. Yes, there were Catholic Inquisitions of “heretics”. Yes, there were Protestant persecutions of Catholics (and vice versa) and “witch trials”. Yes, there were “convert or die” choices given to and by both and by various other religions. But, as is often said, it is an error to judge the past by present standards; such denies the forward growth of Mankind. Understanding must grow as well.
One might consider those notable philosophers, scientists and doctors of the ancient past whose fruitful minds provided us great leaps—Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Pythagoras and Archimedes, Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna, etc. Or those of more recent centuries such Thomas Aquinas, Newton, Galileo, Einstein and Hawking, Pasteur, Pascal and myriad others much too numerous to list here, especially those of the last couple of hundred years. And, as the civilizational concept of the equality of all men and women advances, old prejudices and bigotries and injustices are slowly (albeit very slowly at times) discarded.
As any scientist and engineer will readily admit, modern science and engineering stand on the shoulders of the giants before them, who themselves stood perhaps upon hills of pebbles of smaller gradual discoveries. It is similar with religion and philosophy: while in hindsight one might think, “Why didn’t they see that before—that which was right before them?”, often it takes the “Aha!” moment of one who is particularly insightful to see various connections, thereby making their realizations become “common knowledge” for future generations.
Thus, as time passed, no longer were there burnings at the stake of “heretics”, but rather the recognition of the dignity of every human person and the necessity of their own free conversion to faith. No longer are there wars between Catholic and Protestant (and atheists, non-Christians and others), but that recognition of their own personal responsibility to explore and to come to the greater knowledge of, and adherence to, truth. We Christians, of course, believe that absolute truth was taught and displayed by Christ, and yet even amongst ourselves we cannot agree amongst ourselves of various tenets of His teaching, much as scientists might view the very same data and come to different conclusions without animus. And yet always we hope to aid one another—and all others—to come to truth, without force or coercion, remembering: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence… “ (1 Peter 3:15) After all, the great commission that Jesus leaves to the apostles is not: “Force people to follow me,”, but rather, “…make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Humans, with the reason and spiritual soul imbued within them giving them the ability to grasp truth, thereby have the moral obligation to seek truth and to practice that truth. For, we recall St. Paul: “… each of us will give an account of himself to God,” (Romans 14:12) as to how ardently we have done so … or not. Christian or no, that gift within each of us is simply too precious to waste. May God bless you on this lifelong quest of seeking that incomparable treasure of truth.
“Oh send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me, let them bring me to thy holy hill and to thy dwelling!” (Psalm 43:3)
Editor’s note: 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.