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Veterans Day: A Reflection for the 11th Hour

We celebrate Veterans’ Day on November 11 because that was the day World War I ended—at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. So Veterans’ Day—or Armistice Day, as it was known in the U.S. for decades—recognizes the importance of individuals willing to fight for their country by commemorating the moment when they no longer had to.

The stroke of the eleventh hour is often described as the moment the guns fell silent. It’s hard to imagine what it was like on either side of the front—shooting at each other one moment and then listening to silence the next. While no actual recordings of the moment exist, the British Imperial War Museum has cleverly reproduced it using “sound ranging” data from that moment at the American Front at the River Moselle. It is a vivid way to consider the origins of this day:

Kurt Vonnegut, himself a veteran of World War II, wrote about World War I veterans in his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions: “I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.”

What might it be that God speaks in such silence? For us Catholics, surely it is that every life is sacred, and the loss of each one in military conflict matters.

Veterans Day also gives us as elementary schools a chance to help our students see one model of service to a cause greater than oneself. We can even elevate for their consideration individuals like Brian Garrett, who works in the main office at St. Charles Borromeo…

…and St. Mark the Evangelist math teacher Dana Farmer…

…who followed military service with service in schools, vivid examples how a consistent spirit of caring for others can take on multiple forms.

In a couple of minutes of silence today—perhaps right at 11 a.m., in keeping with the origins of Veterans Day—we can also hear God calling us to remember that every veteran was once an elementary school student, and our current students may pursue military service. After all, our oldest Partnership School—Immaculate Conception in the Bronx—was founded five years before the U.S. Civil War, and children just like the ones who walk our halls now grew up to be the veterans of every war from that one to the present day. So we pray for our alumni in active military service. And we pray for the tough work of peacemaking—for every effort meant to prevent those willing to sacrifice their lives for others in military service from having to do so.

If you find yourself taking that moment of silence, this prayer may be one to offer:

Help us, dear God, to see your face in every veteran we encounter. Guide us as we imagine new ways to support veterans and their families. Bring healing and peace to all who have been wounded physically, mentally and spiritually during wartime. Help us bring your saving grace to heal the invisible wounds of war. We ask this in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.