Looking at all of the stories where this person or that organization makes a very vocal public stance, files a lawsuit or does both, claiming they’re very offended by an action taken, often something said by a faithful Christian, I was brought back to a monument my husband and I stumbled upon when we were visiting his family in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
It was during the very popular Italian American festival, which is held downtown during Labor Day weekend. We were strolling past all the wonderful vendor booths and decided to grab a gelato and sit down for a while. We meandered over to a small area in front of the local courthouse that had several park benches. As we were relaxing and enjoying our treats, we couldn’t help but notice a large monument nearby. It caught our attention not only because of its size but because of the word carved and emblazoned into the top of the structure and in large capital letters: “BROTHERHOOD,” as well as the quotes listed below it. The stone structure is part of a larger monument and area dedicated to Vietnam veterans.
There was a wonderful quote, for example, concerning humility from President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Humility must be the portion of any man who achieves acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”
And there was some additional food for thought regarding putting others first despite the pain and suffering to one’s self, from author Horace H. Shaw: “The strongest ties between human beings are not cemented in safety luxury and comfort. It is in the dividing by a hungry soldier, with a hungrier comrade, the last morsel of meat, the binding up of each other’s wounds, the lending of courage from one heart to another.”
Although the words of Eisenhower and Shaw weren’t from Scripture, a Catholic saint or well known Christian leader, they had a very faith-filled tone to them. Afterall Christianity, it’s often said, can be explained by using one very short and simple word, “joy,” as an acronym: Jesus first, others second and yourself last.
Given again the Christian tone in the other quotes, imagine our utter frustration and extreme disappointment when it came to the last quote on the monument. The source happened to be taken from the best-selling book of all time — yes, the Bible. However, while the verse mentioned is one of the most well-known and important verses of the New Testament, none other than John 15:13, it was cited as “anonymous.” “Great love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends.”
There it was and wasn’t. Who said that? We know it was none other than the Lord himself. But the only reference one walking by the monument would see wouldn’t be from the Gospel of John. They would only see the word “anonymous.”
Yes, “anonymous.” We kept saying it out loud and to ourselves repeatedly in disbelief. Did those who put up this monument not see the irony? They were apparently trying very hard to get across the message of self-sacrifice and selfless love of those who gave their lives in service to their country. How could the proper attribution to Jesus, the ultimate source of love and sacrifice as exemplified on the cross, be omitted or ignored?
My husband and I both decided that this was worth some follow-up. When I finally got around to contacting local officials, I was pleasantly surprised. We weren’t the only ones who noticed the obvious gaff. Apparently, they had received a number of complaints over the phone and in writing and are in the process of giving our Lord and his word proper credit and attribution. The county employee to whom I spoke arrived after the monument was put in place and wasn’t sure as to why the Scripture reference was not included but insisted that the reference was in the process of being added along with some other changes that needed to be made.
It’s true that Scranton is not a major city. It’s also true that, despite its smaller size, the town does have a number of popular events that draw thousands to the area each year with the annual Italian festival being among those events at the top of the list. In addition, the memorial is in a very prominent location where city and county employees, residents, shoppers, as well as local college students, pass several times a day. Who knows how the words of Scripture will impact those who read them? A small change can have a big impact. And even if no one notices, God will notice that at least we made the effort to try and make a difference.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).