“Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.”

In many American cemeteries across the world, the words above are engraved in marble crosses planted in the ground. Whether it be Normandy, Nettuno, or Arlington, to walk into these sanctuaries, one is immediately struck by a sense of being on hallowed ground. The stillness pervades where once shots were fired, and slowly moving through the thousands of marble crosses, the inscription pierces your soul: “Someone gave up life so that I could live. Someone unknown to me died here where I now stand.” One’s soul is moved to honor this unknown life by the way we now live our own.

Why are these places and moments so powerful? Because we come face to face with total sacrifice, with someone who “more than self, their country loved.” These graves are markers to the witness of love.

In “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis speaks of an ecology that is farsighted, that calls us to look beyond even our own lives. “The risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centered culture of instant gratification” (162). Instead of individual gain and personal gratification, those who give up their lives so that others might live compel us to love, to build a civilization upon moral foundations of justice, respect and vigorous cooperation. St. John XXIII wrote “all persons must desire to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them harm” (Pacem in Terris, 170).

In November, we the church remember all those who have died. On Nov. 11 as a nation, we remember our veterans, both living and dead. In a world marked by a violence justified by lack of understanding, individual desire, or any desire to break through barriers with love and understanding, we are invited to look at our veterans and honor their witness to love. These men and women are no lovers of violence but rather of courage, people with “a strong desire to love taking the form of a readiness to die” (G.K. Chesterton).

What are we to think of these endless rows of lives that were given so that we might live? Perhaps the words of John McCrae in his 1915 eulogy might guide us:

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 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.

Take some time this month, with your family, to honor the witness of love we see in our veterans. Take some time to examine how you can bear witness to love that some comrade of yours, known only to God, died for.

Cato is director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. Fr. Libra is the archdiocese’s pro-life director and pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland.