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 sunset 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 fields.
That poem was written by John McCrae (1872-1918), a Canadian doctor who served in the army in World War I. With no chaplain available at the time, he presided over a military funeral in 1915 in which he noted that the birds’ songs were almost but not quite drowned out by nearby gunfire. McCrae’s poem has become a staple particularly of the Canadian Memorial Day, celebrated in conjunction with Canada Day on July 1. I thought it would be fitting to use it for this Memorial Day, particularly with the idea that those who have given their lives for our liberty have “thrown the torch” to us, so that we may continue “to hold it high.” We must be thankful for the liberties that are part of our nation, particularly now those that have cost so much for so many. We pray for those who have died in war, and we pray that we may never take their sacrifice for granted.
A few years ago, I saw McCrae’s words in a different context. The locker room of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team has an inscription of the phrase, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.” Part of me thought it disrespectful to use that line for a hockey team. Comparing the athletic accomplishments of Maurice Richard or Jean Beliveau to the soldiers in war seemed a bit of a stretch. But in another sense, we can all see that we are carrying on the work of those who have gone before us. In the last four years, I have heard frequently of Fr. William Weirauch and my other predecessors. As we move into a new stage in the history of our diocese, we cannot forget those who have gone before us. May we also hold the torch high.
Happy Memorial Day.