What We Can Learn from Average Americans Who Were Great
Life of Christ (Week 5 of 27)
There is a law written across the universe, that no one shall be crowned unless he has first struggled. No halo of merit rests suspended over those who do not fight. Icebergs that float in the cold streams of the north do not command our respectful attention, just for being icebergs; but if they were to float in the warm waters of the Gulf stream without dissolving, they would command awe and wonderment. They might, if they did it on purpose, be said to have character. — Life of Christ: Chapter 3, Paragraph 1
On the last Monday of this month, May 30, many Americans will commemorate our nation’s fallen heroes with smiles and cheers and celebrations at parades, picnics and family get-togethers. Those of us whose loved ones gave their lives in service to this great country may visit a cemetery to shower their sacred markers with wreaths, flowers and flags. Some of us will take a moment to thank a veteran (Thank you, Dad and Mom).
But if you want to thank those from The Greatest Generation, you’d better act quickly. The Greatest Generation is a term famously coined by journalist Tom Brokaw referring to the generation of Americans that grew up during the Great Depression and went on to serve their country during WWII. According to The National WWII Museum, it is estimated that every single one of those heroes will have left this world by the year 2036.
It’s hard to believe that over the next twenty years, more than 7,000,000 Americans who arguably sacrificed more in the name of liberty than any other generation will have moved on to their eternal reward. We are saying goodbye to an entire generation of people that by their very example taught America how to struggle. How to overcome. And how to move forward with hope and even victory in the wake of great pain.
In the little time we have left, our generation and the next should be spending as much time as we can with these vessels of wisdom. And we should be taking copious notes for the sake of posterity. For while that Generation has been coined The Greatest Generation, the generation coming of age could easily be labeled The Weakest Generation, demonstrated by its severe aversion to pain, antipathy toward suffering and sacrifice and a penchant for entitlements that far surpasses any past population. For them – and for the rest of us – there is no limit to the wisdom The Greatest Generation can provide.
What’s so Great about The Greatest Generation? Archbishop Fulton Sheen hits the mark when he asserts that one who has overcome great adversity commands awe and wonderment. Those Americans who served during WWII overcame adversity in spades.
God, in His infinite wisdom, taught those brave men and women how to sacrifice, raising them through ashes of The Great Depression. Instead of donning them in silks and pearls, He chose to drape them with strength and courage. Rather than immersing them in materialism and the temporal pleasures of this world, He taught them to do without, to make do, and to be grateful. He blessed them with principles that would stand the test of time. Principles that would be worth fighting for. He taught them to work. Hard. And He taught them to love. And He taught them to give.
This is the generation that grew up during The Great Depression, went on to fight WWII, and returned to build up a magnificent economy, enduring and overcoming all through a deep faith in God, and a driving hope in the life to come. These heroes won the crown. Because they were willing to bear the cross.
One of the most inciteful memoirs of WWII is He Leadeth Me, by Servant of God Father Walter Ciszek, an American priest who served over 23 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps . In describing his experiences as a captive early in the war, Ciszek explains that every one of us faces similar situations in our day to day lives when we find that things aren’t at all what we expected:
And though our situation may have been somewhat unique, the temptation itself was not. It is the same temptation faced by everyone who has followed a call and found that the realities of life were nothing like the expectations he had in the first flush of his vision and his enthusiasm…
…It is the same temptation faced by young couples in marriage, when the honeymoon is over, and they must face a seemingly endless future of living together and scratching out an existence in the same old place and the same old way. It is the temptation to say: “This life is not what I thought it would be. This is not what I bargained for. It is not at all what I wanted, either. If I had known it would be like this, I would never have made this choice, I would never have made this promise. You must forgive me, God, but I want to go back. You cannot hold me to a promise made in ignorance; you cannot expect me to keep a covenant based on faith without any previous knowledge of the true facts of life. It is not fair. I never thought it would be like this. I simply cannot stand it, and I will not stay. I will not serve…
…We had to learn to look at our daily lives, at everything that crossed our path each day, with the eyes of God; learning to see his estimate of things, places, and above all people, recognizing that he had a goal and a purpose in bringing us into contact with these things and these people, and striving always to do that will – his will – every hour of every day in the situations in which he had placed us. For to what other purpose had we been created?
Adversity breeds wisdom. Struggles breed strength. While it is possible that we may never experience the extreme challenges endured by families in The Great Depression or the devastation witnessed by veterans of WWII, the truth is that every day we experience moments where we can, indeed say Yes to God. That is all God asks of us. And yet, that is everything.
…and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 10:38-39.
We must encourage the virtues of personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, humility, frugality, and most importantly, Faith, that the coming generation can withstand the challenges of everyday life. We all need to develop the strength of character necessary to commit to our families and to serve our communities, without counting the cost. Each of us must be willing to bear the cross, if we have any desire to win the crown.
If we instill the discipline necessary for everyday life, then surely coming generations will be able to withstand whatever life throws their way. Lessons from The Greatest Generation would go far toward that end. Their wisdom holds true whether we are at war with another country, or suffering in a difficult marriage. And while coming generations may not endure anything as trying as The Great Depression or WWII, the fact is…they could be faced with much worse.
1. Are you or were you privileged enough to know anyone from The Greatest Generation? What lessons have you learned from that person?
2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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