Sunday, September 6, 2009

Duc in altum

The gospel reading for last Thursday, Sept. 3, was from the 5th chapter of John, in which Jesus urges Simon (Peter) and his fellow fishermen to "put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." Somewhat against his better judgment, Peter obeys, and the end result is, of course, a net so full of fish that he and his fellows cannot lift it into the boat without aid. They are so astonished and humbled by their own unworthiness that Peter is prompted to say, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Jesus responds with, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men."

The phrase,
duc in altum (put out into the deep) is one that presents a perpetual challenge to me, and whenever I fail to meet that challenge it is usually because of ordinary rank fear. No wonder the phrase, "Fear not," or "Be not afraid," or some variation thereof, appears so very often in Scripture, including this passage. We are fearful creatures, and of course our Creator knows that. So it is no wonder this admonition appears so often in accounts of heavenly visitations or challenges to go where God leads--the Annunciation, for example (Luke 1), or Joshua's speech to the Children of Israel just before they enter the Promised Land (Jos. 1). Indeed, "Be not afraid" became a trademark phrase of the late Holy Father John Paul II.

Few people meet this challenge with the kind of physical and spiritual courage embodied by Father Vincent Capodanno, so this Gospel reading was especially appropriate for a Mass in his honor last Thursday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Also known as "The Grunt Padre"--the title of a biography of him by Fr. Daniel L. Mode--he was a Navy/Marine Corps chaplain in Vietnam known for refusing the relative safety of the command post and choosing instead to serve his flock on the battlefield. He died on Sept. 4, 1967, ministering to the wounded and dying men of a company of Marines battling a much larger force of North Vietnamese.

He was awarded posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart, in addition to two Bronze Stars and various other military honors. The cause for his canonization was opened in 2004, and in 2006 he was declared a "Servant of God," the first step toward that end, by the Archbishop for the Military Services. His official Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, in connection with operations against enemy forces. In response to reports that the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon. Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded. When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed the corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant Marines. Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire. By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.
In his homily, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Armed Services noted the timeliness of the Gospel reading, pointing out Fr. Capodanno's willingness to "put out into the deep" throughout his life, and especially from the time he answered God's call to the priesthood to his death. He was truly a "fisher of men," too. Read the testimonials on the official website
dedicated to his canonization from the men who served with him--Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Clearly his example helped deepen (and in some cases, awaken) the faith of many of them.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

1 comment:

Jeffrey Adams said...

You would be interested to know about Father Joe O'Callahan.