In 1864-65, two hundred boats a day coursed this water, delivering supplies for the Union lines around Richmond and Petersburg. General U.S. Grant presided over it all, from his little cabin.
I know: remembering the soldiers of the Civil War hardly gives us a blithe and bonny patriotic Memorial Day, dear reader. Forgive me. History inevitably makes things complicated.
Let’s start with the original memorial: the Mass.
What if the written documents of the New Testament never got collected? What if the scriptures of the Old Covenant had been lost? What if Rome had fallen before St. Peter ever got there, and the memories of all the ancients died when they did?
Not so outlandish, really. The native people used to call the James River by a different name. But their memories–of empires, triumphs, defeats, dynasties–those memories have all but vanished from the face of the earth.
But: Even if not a single book survived from the age of ancient Rome, we would still remember Jesus, because of the Mass.
Some people remember the Vietnam War. During his visit to Asia last week, President Obama said he remembered when that war ended, when he was 13 years old. Who remembers why that war was fought? I think the Vietnamese exiles around the world probably remember better than anyone.
Because Catholicism involves people in the world, institutions, property, alliances, family ties, and stuff like that, we cannot exactly claim ideological purity, so to speak. What we can claim is that we have remembered Jesus, through thick and thin, by celebrating Mass.
When the president visited Hiroshima, it served as an occasion to rehearse an argument that runs like this: dropping nuclear bombs on Japan brought the end of World War II. If we had not dropped The Bomb, the war would have lasted much longer, and many more people would have died. Therefore, we did the right thing.
This is what you call “consequentialism”–the moral justification of inherently immoral acts by invoking anticipated results. Consequentialism is the refuge of people hell-bent on doing something they manifestly should not do, but who try to find a reason to do it anyway. Consequentialism neglects the one, all-important fact: God runs history, not us. Our job is to do good and avoid evil. Dropping bombs that you know will kill countless innocents–women, children, old people sitting in their rocking chairs: E-V-I-L.
Anyway, may all our beloved dead rest in peace!
Someday, when people pray for us, in languages different from any which we currently know, using new and different names for the places familiar to us–when they pray for us, we can hope for divine mercy through their prayers. Provided it’s the memorial of Jesus, a Mass.