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Memorial Day, 2015: When Push Comes to Shove

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By Felix Carroll (May 22, 2015)
When a push comes to a shove, children get sent to the principal's office. For nations, when a push comes to a shove, graveyards can become crowded.

Each Memorial Day, we gather around flag-spangled gravestones to solemnly honor fallen soldiers killed in battle after a push came to a shove. At some point before or after the shell-casings clank to the ground from the rifle volleys and the hotdogs are digested, we parents of young children have the unenviable obligation to sort these mixed messages out.

Hey, good luck with that!

A few years back, I happened to be standing inside the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, at the very spot where at 9:37 a.m., on Sept. 11, 2001, jihadist barbarians purposefully crashed a Boeing 757, killing 184 people. At that very spot where that hijacked plane made impact, Pentagon officials defiantly built a chapel.

Why was I there? The Marian priest Fr. Mark Baron, MIC, had been tapped to become one of the Pentagon's several chaplains, and I was sent by the Marians to tag along with him to Mass and write about it.

Father Mark and I meet up at the Metro by the Catholic University of America. On the train, he quietly prepares himself for Mass by meditating on the daily Gospel reading, which he's to preach upon. I soon see him with a deer-in-the-headlights expression, high-octane anxiety broadcast by a face drained of color.

"Everything all right over there?" I ask. He hands me his Bible and points to the Gospel reading from Matthew 5:38-42. If there were a Top 10 greatest hits of the New Testament, Matthew 5:38-42 would be at the top — the "Jumpin' Jack Flash" of the Bible.
In the reading, Jesus says to his disciples, "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well."

Challenging under any circumstances, this reading is exponentially so in the Pentagon of all places, headquarters of the Department of Defense, which presently is engaged in a dangerous, high-stakes, and perpetual game of Whac-a-Mole against terrorist organizations seeking to annihilate us.

A four-star general and other military brass are frequent communicants.

We reach the Metro's Pentagon stop and head up the escalator to wend our way through two security checkpoints. Days prior I had been set up with clearance. We're soon inside on an unnerving walk within the 17-plus miles of corridors that comprise the spokes and rings of the Pentagon.

Down at the chapel, while Fr. Mark is preparing for Mass, some church-goers linger in the hallway before entering the chapel. I meet Paul Brady, a 40-year employee at the Pentagon who tells me he lost friends in the attack on Sept. 11. Pointing with his cane to the ceiling and walls, Paul helps me imagine how the plane cut through the office space occupied by the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel and continued 80 feet into the Navy Command Center, where he works. Another man, John, explains how he took up the task to help procure body bags. He recalls the smoky haze. "It's a smell I'll never forget," he says. "It must be what hell smells like — the jet fuel, the burnt building, the burnt bodies."
Paul admits that sometimes hatred gets a grip on him. He's not proud of that.

Mass begins at 11:30 a.m. About 50 people are in attendance. After the Gospel reading, Fr. Mark takes a deep breath and says the following:

"The world is a place where evil flourishes. We may wonder, '... Can it get any worse than it is now, with all the terror and disorder?' But the reading from Matthew [teaches] how we are to respond to evil. To not resist it — that means to transcend the problem of evil. We are to fight evil by growing in mercy. As we grow in mercy, we break the grip of evil in our lives. God allows us to transcend the problem of evil in this world — not that we don't fight it. We are to conquer evil with the power of good. Evil is powerless in the face of virtue." 
Father Mark hastens to add, "But evil has its day sometimes."

Indeed, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the entire revelation of God's goodness in Christ is a response to the existence of evil.

Father Mark's words were inspirational. Still, I notice even his own rumination on fighting could be interpreted as having an element of ambiguity — "... not that we don't fight it," he had said while talking of turned cheeks and certifiable creeps. But what may seem like ambiguity in fact reflects the solemn teachings of the Church that war can be justified when it's in self-defense and "once all peace efforts fail" (Catechism, 2308).

On Memorial Day especially, we must help our children understand the following:

• Bad guys exist, but love them anyway;
• sometimes you have to put up your dukes, but rage leads to ruin; and
• the glare of righteous victory will never outshine the dignity of the fallen soldier.

And yes, my child: If your hands are forced and if a push comes to a shove, then let your counterpunch serve as a prayer for peace. Oh, and protect your face!

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