This national holiday began as “Decoration Day,” when the first flowers of the springtime were used to decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War. Today it is a day to honor all of the Americans who served their country in the armed services, and particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives defending our freedoms.

But while standing before a gravesite, flowers in hand, or listening to the patriotic words of a ceremony that celebrates bravery and commitment beyond our understanding—what is it that we remember? What are we memorializing?

Those lives lost, most certainly. Those individuals who gave so deeply that even the mention of their names or a glance at their pictures causes us to fall silent and reflective.

But much more than that, I think. The reason that Memorial Day is so important is not only because it honors our lost heroes—it is because they call us to the good and the true. They call us to the highest ideals of our republic, the heart of our democracy—“liberty and justice for all.”

That’s the heart of it right there. On Memorial Day we remember those who have served our country by protecting our freedoms—and whose memory requires that we commit ourselves to being a nation that takes seriously the meaning and the cost of liberty and justice for all.

God bless our veterans—and all who serve and have served this country in the armed services. May we be ever mindful of their sacrifice.