This past weekend I attended my US Naval Academy Class of 1974 reunion… I will leave you to do the math. It was a nice chance to catch up with classmates, roommates, guys on the swim team, and people with whom I served in the fleet. It was interesting to see the path in life that people took in the intervening years. Many of the folks there had served 20+ years in the Navy or Marine Corps and then gone on to second careers – and from which they were planning to retire in the months to come. Lots of my classmates had children who also attended the Naval Academy – some of that next generation had already taken command of ships, submarines, and all manner of military units. And of course, there were pictures of grandchildren…lots. In other words, it was a college reunion and a grateful assembly of families who had long and faithfully served their country. It was a blessed time.
While there, I was privileged to concelebrate Mass at the USNA Chapel with the two Catholic chaplains and a young priest from the Diocese of Sioux Falls (Class of 1999). As you might imagine, there were lots of folks and midshipmen that were interested in finding out how a Naval Academy graduate ended up in the habit of a Franciscan friar. At the end of Mass, it was like Sunday morning in Tampa, with lots of great conversations on the “sidewalk.”
Later Sunday morning our Class held a memorial service for our classmates who have passed away in the line of duty and in life. It was an interesting prelude to our celebration of All Souls Day this weekend. All Souls is a day when we remember all the faithful departed, known and unknown, whose souls are in the hands and mercy of God. Most often we focus on our family members and a small circle of intimate friends. But All Souls is a day we cast the net of our family and prayers much wider to souls known and unknown to us.
Certainly there is a very strong bond between Academy classmates, but in truth I did not know most of the 900 or so graduates. One’s sphere is generally limited to the Company of men with whom you lived for four years, people in your academic major, and perhaps your sports team. In my case, swimming was a year-round sport making my world even smaller. Though I did not know (or could not remember) many names on the memorial list, it was still sobering to read the list of classmates who has passed away. One of my roommates was on the list; he passed away while I was living in Kenya. Many of the early deaths were aviators whose career was certainly higher risk than life in submarines. As we aged into our late 40s and into our 50s the list began to acquire more names and the causes of death more connected to our age than our military careers.
One man was a well-known character in our class. He came to our USNA class having already served as a Gunnery Sargent in the Marine Corp, and as you might imagine we were all somewhat in awe of him. He graduated and served a career in the Corp, retired, but took his own life a few years later. And it makes you wonder what happened to a life that once loomed so large and promising. Such things are known to God alone. We who remain, can only offer up our prayers for the faithful departed.
As I sat in the chapel, in the quiet, the words of the Second Eucharistic prayer came to mind. It comes just after we have prayed: “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection.” In a way, we recall the good people known to us in this lifetime. But what about the ones we did not know? I am comforted by the words as the Eucharistic Prayer continues: “and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face. Have mercy on us all, we pray.” The souls of all the departed are in the hands and mercy of God. They are in our prayers.
Today is a day we pause and remember those people known to us, those we did not know, and people known only to God. And we commit our prayers to them that when all things are complete at the end of days, we too will celebrate a reunion with them in God.