In Flanders Fields

originalJohn McCrae was a Canadian physician and professor of medicine. In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, Doctor McCrae was sent to France as a medical officer. During the second battle of Ypres, in the spring of 1915, his medical station was set up at the foot of the bank of the Yser Canal. Soldiers who were wounded rolled down the bank and into the station.

After a seventeen-day siege, McCrae sat on the back of an ambulance parked near the small cemetery where many of the casualties were buried, including one that affected him greatly. He was a young friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, for whom McCrae performed the funeral ceremony in that cemetery in the absence of the chaplain.

As he fixed his gaze on the cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe. He vented his anguish in a 15-line poem that he scribbled in his notebook. McCrae later tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but the magazine “Punch” published it on December 8, 1915.

Doctor McCrae’s poem is one that is appropriate for us to reflect on as we remember those who gave their lives in the defense of our nation.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunsets glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders field.

This coming Monday is Memorial Day. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates United States soldiers who died while in the military service.

The dead now at peace in many Flanders fields around the world challenge us to take up the torch of freedom and justice they fought to keep burning in too many wars. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus challenges us to take up the same torch – to work ceaselessly for compassion, justice, peace and reconciliation.

On Memorial Day, may our prayer be that we not “break faith” with those who rest forever in Flanders fields, that we may bring the peace of God to a desperate, hurting world.

After all of the Masses this weekend at Saint John Bosco representatives of the American Legion Auxiliary Post 421 will be distributing Poppies. The Poppy has been used to collect contributions to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans since 1921. One hundred percent of the donations received are used exclusively to assist and support veterans and their families. Be sure to pick up your poppy and wear it proudly throughout Memorial Day weekend.

There are a number of Memorial Day Celebrations in our area . . .

If you are planning to be in Parma Heights on Memorial Day – know that you are welcome to join us in the morning at our 8:30 am Mass. That Mass will be celebrated for the living and deceased Veterans of our parish.

The longest running Memorial Day Service in the State of Ohio is right here in Parma Heights. The 150th Parma Heights Memorial Day Celebration will begin with a service on the front lawn of Parma-South Presbyterian Church, 6155 Pearl Road in Parma Heights at 9:30 am. That service is followed by a parade that begins in front of the church and continues north on Pearl Road to the Parma Heights Cemetery, where there will be the playing of “Taps,” a traditional wreath laying, and another brief community service honoring those Parma Heights residences who sacrificed their lived for our country. This year you are encouraged to wear red, white and blue to demonstrate your civic pride.

Another Memorial Day event is the Mass that is celebrated at 10:00 am at Holy Cross Cemetery, 14609 Brookpark Road in Brook Park. This Mass, which anyone is welcome to attend, is celebrated for all who are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery and the other Catholic Cemeteries throughout our Diocese.

Finally, for the summer months, beginning in June, I will be blogging once a month. My next blog will be on June 21.

Question – What touched you as your read John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields?” Considering sharing the story of the Veteran you be remembering in prayer on Memorial Day.

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