By Fr. Glenn Jones:
And so we go back to Memorial Day weekend and remember those who died in our service, not just our nation, but our states and all local communities … those who go day and night, under the sun, rain or snow, often not sure they will return. This is something that we, the served, do not take enough into account, I think. When the soldier boards the helicopter, straps to a parachute, or confides in the recall line even in peacetime, he knows a lot can go wrong. And then … increase the risk when in a combat zone. And yet, so are many first responders. Whenever this cop comes out, he has no idea what will face him that day: the thief drugged with a gun, the arrested heroin dealer, the blindly enraged domestic abuser, or even a a flat tire that could send it crashing into a concrete barrier during a high-speed chase. Or the firefighter caught under a collapsed burning structure. These dangers that they and many others face in serving us on a daily basis deserve respect.
Today we remember the teaching of Jesus: “There is no man greater love than this, that a man gives his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) We therefore pray that all who have given their lives in service will rest in the joyful and eternal embrace of God. And a big thank you to all of you who don’t hesitate to put yourselves in danger every day. God bless you now and always.
But WHY do first responders volunteer to serve? It is certainly not for “a lot of money”, good hours of work or, especially nowadays, the thought of being showered with gratitude. What drives those who serve to serve?
Well, by answering this question, you will probably get more varied answers than those that serve. But philosophers argue that ultimately every action we take is done in the pursuit of the ever-elusive individual’s happiness.
I have read “The Consolation of Philosophy” by the ancient philosopher Boethius – actually a fairly readable text as it is written as a poetic dialogue between the author and the “nurse” of philosophy, exploring deeper subjects of life – subjects we hardly contemplate these days of perpetual external stimuli. But when discussing happiness – the ultimate good and the goal of all – Boethius’s nurse defines it as the state in which nothing more is desired.
Humans, our nurse observes wisely, mistakenly seek happiness by pursuing wealth, pleasure, power and fame. But the acquisition and dependence of these things engenders fear, that of losing them. And so she declares: “… Nature is content with little, while nothing satisfies greed … wealth creates a need of its own.” Boethius wrote later:
Though the wanton thirst for gold drives the rich man to
To reap riches that cannot satisfy his greed
Though heavy Persian pearls bow his head
And oxen in their twenties trodden on his acres,
Every day he lives with rodent care, he will suffer,
And dead, he abandons his inconstant fortune.
It is the same for the other defective paths: the search for fame, for position, for power, for beauty, for pleasure. Once acquired, there is a relentless 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 get and stay elected or in power.
True happiness therefore cannot be found in something that can be taken away, for the fear of loss in itself causes unhappiness. So, happiness must reside in that which cannot be taken away, in truth, in wisdom… and in love.
The soldier or the police officer himself may not think of his service in these terms, but love is the foundation of all true service… the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of others. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that “love” was the pursuit of the good of the other person, and therefore true and sincere service IS love – love of people, love of good. The officer risks his life to avoid harming others, just like the firefighter and the soldier. So do the social worker, the “doctor without borders”, the volunteer nurse and all those who give of their time and talent for others – either for a reward not or for a disproportionate reward. How much is it worth for a cop to save your daughter from kidnapping and trafficking, after all, or a SEAL mission to go and save her? Much more than what they are paid for! And yet… they do it day in and day out. “It’s work,” they might say ironically. Yes, there are “bad apples” and bad examples, but the vast majority serve with dedication and sincerity. Why do it differently?
The fact that service comes from love comes as no surprise to us. Parents also do this every day – 24/7 service for their children. But above all, we see it in Jesus, who declares that He Himself did not come to be served, but to serve. He who IS love has served the most tremendously of all, giving his life for the world. So when we serve, we reflect the love of Jesus, that of God. We imitate love itself. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. “ (John 3:16)
So, on this Memorial Day week, let us thank those who serve us and always remember those who gave their lives so that we may enjoy the blessings of freedoms and security that we enjoy and take so much for granted.
I will always do my duty
No matter the price
I counted the price
I know the sacrifice
Oh, and I don’t wanna die for you
But if I am asked to die
I will carry this cross with honor
Because freedom doesn’t come for free
I’m an American soldier, an American
Next to my brothers and sisters
I will proudly take a stand
When freedom is in danger
i will always do what’s right
I’m here on the front line
sleep in peace tonight
I am an american soldier
(“An American Soldier” by Toby Keith)
Reverend Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.