Rev. Paul Hartmann of St. Monica Catholic Church in Whitefish Bay and St. Eugene Catholic Church in Fox Point:
Years ago I traveled to Maine for the wedding of a friend whose fiancé was a lobsterman’s daughter from an island off the coast. The setting made for a beautiful weekend for the wedding, but it also made for a difficult travel itinerary.
In order to fit everything in for a July 6 wedding, many of the guests came to the island on July 3. Who was I to pass up a couple extra days in a picturesque New England fishing village? To further set the stage, at one point the men of the wedding party and I joined the bride’s dad on his fishing boat to literally “catch” the rehearsal dinner.
A highlight of the weekend was the island’s Fourth of July parade. Our group (clearly out-of-towners) found a nice spot on Main Street in front of the hardware store to view the parade. Taking the lead in the parade was a color guard of five Boy Scouts. They were cheered, and each was proud of his role in the celebration. The tallest boy was in the center carrying the American flag.
I surmise that he was told to remain stone-faced and looking straight ahead. He was flanked by scouts carrying the state flag, and the troop’s flag. On the ends were the youngest, and the shortest, scouts holding a pole carrying the banner announcing the parade. These two hadn’t gotten the message about being stoned-faced as they were all smiles and waving at those cheering them.
I grinned a bit when I noticed that the Scout closest to us was in what had to be a hand-me-down uniform. The shirt was too big; old patches had been removed, and the green uniform pants were rolled up at his ankles. Both mom and boy were waiting for him to grow into an older brother’s clothes.
The parade was refreshing Americana – a marching band from the small high school; a cohort of tykes on decorated tricycles; thematic floats from civic organizations; and politicians in convertibles with insurance agent advertisements on the doors.
At the end of the parade was another color guard. This one made up of veterans in uniform. At the center was a Marine carrying the American flag. He stood tall, straight-backed, and stared forward every step of the way. There was a Navy officer with the flag of the local American Legion post, and on the ends were to two older men in World War II vintage Army uniforms.
Probably the oldest man (wearing the stripes of a sergeant) passed closest to us and was hunched over a bit. He smiled with great pride as people cheered. He saluted anyone one who saluted him. He stood just as tall as he could, but his 60-year old uniform hung very loose on his 80-year old body. Ironically, the passage of time impacted the man. His once perfectly fitting uniform trousers now had to be rolled up at the ankles.
Walking around after the parade, we passed the church in the heart of the village where the wedding would take place, as well as the barber shop with the candy cane sign that would open special on Saturday morning for the bride’s dad (and any of the men) to get a trim before the ceremony.
The weekend was a heartwarming encounter with American values. It became an intersection of God, family and country which spoke to ideals we treasure. By the time of the Saturday wedding, and at a Sunday Mass I celebrated in the local parish, I had added to my homily reflections. In America, religious and civic life are supposed to intersect in hope and promise.
Religious freedom makes it possible for our churches to proclaim true freedom and true hope. Personal freedoms make it possible for every citizen, young or old, to take a rightful and proud place of example in the community.
In small-town, faith-filled America, rolled up uniform pants represent both hope for the future, and a life well lived. With our Catholic faith, we are willing to roll up the cuffs of our pants.