Writing of the war between Athens and Sparta in fourth-century B.C., the great historian Thucydides wrote: "At the beginning of an undertaking, the enthusiasm is always greatest. And at that time in both Peloponnesus and in Athens there were great numbers of young men who had never been in a war and were consequently far from unwilling to join in this one."
Twenty-four hundred years later, the enthusiasm of the young for war has not waned. Brave men and women enlisted to defend their country and fight its enemies. We may not all agree on what constitutes legitimate defense or who its mortal enemies are, or even where best to fight this battle, but what we can agree on is that some of the bravest in our midst were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of their fellows and their country.
For several years now, a new generation has been initiated into the rituals of war. They have volunteered with great enthusiasm, they have trained and bonded and rehearsed and finally entered the fray.
And like young soldiers of every age, they come home -- those who are fortunate enough to come home -- changed. Some for good, some for ill, but all are changed.
These are our new veterans now, these soldiers in their 20s or 30s or 40s, soldiers who left behind spouses and children, parents and siblings, and returned with memories and experiences that those of us who remained behind cannot share.
And while we may support them with our magnetized yellow ribbons and our flags when they are in harm's way, more is asked of us once they return home.
When a war becomes less popular, when the tragedies and terrors and even the abuses mount, the veterans we once sent off to do our nation's will with parades and loud cheers return to a much-changed nation. People want to move on, but it is not always so easy for those who fought on their behalf.
This Veterans Day, it would be worthwhile for Catholics to reflect on the human toll of war, and to ask ourselves what we are doing for those who have served our country.
In some cases, this calls for health care and programs to assist returning veterans -- psychologically, economically, but spiritually first and foremost.
How can we get more involved? Are we praying for our soldiers? Some churches have vigil candles for any and all vets in their congregation who are serving overseas. Others read their names out in the prayer petitions each Sunday. Is this something that can spark prayers for those in harm's way?
Are we supporting funds for the health care needed by those who have been injured? Are we supporting efforts to provide good college tuition assistance to those who return? Are we supporting efforts to help those veterans who are psychologically and spiritually the most vulnerable?
And are we reaching out to the families of these soldiers, those who must wait without knowing until they return, and then wait even longer while they heal?
This Veterans Day, let us remember our obligation to help those who serve in our name, even after the parades have stopped.
Though war has changed much in the past three millennia, there are common experiences that soldiers share.