Memorial blessing, Mass and meal offer lost veterans a way back to God

Bishop blesses Colorado Freedom Memorial, Knights fix lunch, deacons offer resources to vets

Roxanne King

On the morning of Sept. 28, some 200 people watched auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez bless the Colorado Freedom Memorial grounds, the glass wall listing all Coloradans killed in war, and the granite pillars holding soil from foreign cemeteries in which Colorado military are buried.

It was the first Catholic blessing of the six-year-old windswept Aurora site.

“Bless this memorial, O Lord, that it may remind those who visit it that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” Bishop Rodriguez prayed as he sprinkled holy water. “Bless these grounds and make them holy and solemn for all those who gather here.”

Organized by the deacons of the Denver Archdiocese, the blessing preceded a Mass for veterans, their families and friends, and a lunch provided by the Knights of Columbus. Prior to the blessing and during the Mass, the Air Force Academy Catholic Cadet Choir sang patriotic songs and hymns. Rick Crandall, KEZW-AM morning show host and founder of the memorial, served as emcee.

Open to all veterans and named after the U.S. motto, the “In God We Trust” event sought especially to offer outreach to those who may have fallen away from their faith as a result of war-induced trauma. Professionals from Mount Tabor Catholic Counseling were available for attendees to talk to and a priest was on hand to hear confessions. Deacons were available for spiritual counsel.

“It is our deepest desire that when you leave here today you feel this Mass has brought you closer to the Lord,” Crandall told the assembly.

An Air Force Color Guard advances during a Mass and event for military veterans at the Colorado Freedom Memorial on September 28, 2019, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Held the day before the feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the Scripture readings were from the votive Mass for them as St. Michael is the patron of military members. In his homily, Bishop Rodriguez explained the Hebrew meaning of the archangels’ names, noting that they point to each angel’s special attributes.

“Michael means … ‘who is like God.’ He is also known as the prince of the heavenly host,” Bishop Rodriguez said, adding that the Book of Revelation speaks of Michael and his angels casting Lucifer and his minions from heaven.

The battle against evil can take soldiers into war to defend people from oppression and terrorism, but an interior fight against the devil also takes place in all our souls, the bishop said.

“We invoke St. Michael to help us in our fight against Satan,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “The angels of the Lord are with us, to protect us and to guide us in this battle. Michael and his angels battle against the dragon.”
Gabriel, he said, means “God is my strength.”

“He appears in Scripture three times as a messenger. He is the one who announces when the Lord entrusts you with a special mission,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “The presence of the Archangel Gabriel indicates you are sent to the mission with the strength that comes from God.”

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez blesses the Colorado Freedom Memorial during a Mass on September 28, 2019, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Raphael means, “God heals,” the prelate said. The Book of Tobit describes Raphael serving as a companion, protector and healer.

“He is invoked in critical moments in life … when there are wounds and people need healing. This happens constantly in war and it happens in our spiritual war against the enemy,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “God is always close to us with his healing power. Even when wounded, we can say ‘in God we trust,’ because he has promised us his healing power.”

To do battle and to need strength and healing are everyday realities for military members, the bishop said.

“God and his angels were with you,” the bishop said addressing the veterans. “As he is with us today and will be always.”

Before the final blessing of the Mass, Bishop Rodriguez told the gathering that the liturgy and the memorial blessing had given him a new insight.

“The Eucharist is God giving us his Son in the sacrifice for our salvation. But also in the Eucharist are our own sacrifices, which we unite with Jesus’ for the salvation,” he said. “When I was saying the words of the consecration, This is my body given up for you, what came to mind was the names of our brothers [listed on the memorial wall] …and [again when saying] This is my blood poured out for you. … That gave a new sense to my Eucharist. May the Lord Jesus bless their souls.”

At the end of the liturgy, a bugler played Taps.
Former U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Stan Keller, a parishioner at Risen Christ Church and an eight-year veteran, attended the Mass and luncheon with his wife Katerina.

“We came to honor all those who laid down their lives,” he told the Denver Catholic. “It’s very nice to be thanked for our service, but I was just doing my job.”

Katerina described the liturgy in one word: “Gorgeous.”

Deacon Jim Doyle, who served as an air evac medic during the Vietnam War, helped his daughter find his father’s name on the memorial wall. His father, Jim Doyle Sr., was an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. He died at Aachen, Germany just before the Battle of the Bulge. He is buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.

“This is like going to the Vietnam Wall,” Deacon Doyle said, tearing up. “This is pretty emotional.”

In brief remarks before the Mass, retired Air Force Sgt. Bill Lancaster encouraged the veterans to return to God if they’ve fallen away from him, trusting that like the biblical Prodigal Son, God will welcome them back with open arms.

“God has never let you go,” he said. “He has remained beside you and is always calling you back. God loves you more than you can know.”

COMING UP: Catholic school teachers are ‘ministers’, SCOTUS rules

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a long-awaited religious liberty decision on the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers. The court found in favor of two Catholic schools in California, ruling that a “ministerial exception” to government interference applies to teachers in religious schools.

The ruling came in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that teachers at Catholic grade schools qualified for the “ministers exception” established by the court in the 2012 Hosana Tabor case.

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

The two California Catholic schools did not renew the contracts of the teachers in 2014 and 2015. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the ministerial exception, the legal doctrine under which government cannot interfere in the employment decisions of churches and religious institutions regarding the hiring and firing of ministers.

In both cases, the teachers’ suits were dismissed by federal courts, and then reinstated by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined case in May, lawyers for the schools argued that “for hours on end over the course of a week,” teachers in Catholic schools were the “primary agents” by which the faith was taught to students. Argument – and questions from the bench – focused on how broadly the ministerial exception could be applied to the employees of religious schools.

The decision comes just weeks after the court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, that employers cannot fire employees because of their sexual orientation or “gender identity.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion in that case, acknowledged that religious freedom cases related to the decision would probably come before the Court in the future.

The decision about who qualifies as a minister could directly impact future cases in which teachers might be dismissed for failing to adhere to Church teachins on same-sex marriage or transgender issues, both of which have been subjects of controversy in recent months.

“Requiring the use of the title [minister] would constitute impermissible discrimination,” the court ruled. Referencing the previous decision in Hosana Tabor, Altio wrote that there must be “a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.”

The verdict also explicitly referenced the policy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, home to both of the schools designating all teachers in Catholic schools as being effectively ministers.

“Like all teachers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Morrissey-Berru was “considered a catechist,” i.e., “a teacher of religion,” Alito noted in his decision for the majority.

“There is abundant record evidence that [both teachers] performed vital religious duties. Educating and forming students in the Catholic faith lay at the core of the mission of the schools where they taught, and their employment agreements and faculty handbooks specified in no uncertain terms that they were expected to help the schools carry out this mission and that their work would be evaluated to ensure that they were fulfilling that responsibility.”

The court concluded that “when a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.”

Joining Alito in the majority decision were Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Sotomayer and Ginsburg dissented.