The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
It was Labor Day in the United States on 4 September 1967. People were sunning themselves on beaches and enjoying the last summer barbecues before school began. But in another world far away in Vietnam, war raged.
On that Labor Day 50 years ago, Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and military chaplain found himself with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines. Encountering a regiment of 2,500 North Vietnamese in a major offense a platoon from the battalion was quickly overrun. Though Fr. Capadanno was ordered to go to the battalion aid station, he boarded a helicopter with some of the company Marines. They didn’t make it. Their chopper was shot down close to the battlefield. Father Capodanno and his men evacuated the chopper and set up a command post on a small knoll the other side of the battle. Father Capodanno knew where his men needed him and the sacraments of the Church most and it wasn’t on the safe side of that knoll. Dashing over the hill, time and gain throughout the day Father Capodanno brought back to relative safety the wounded and dying. He himself was wounded through his right hand but refused to leave the battlefield. Choking from tear gas, Father Capodanno gave his gas mask to a young marine without one. His second wound disabled his right arm and shoulder. Again he refused to leave the battlefield. A short time later running to aid Marine Lawrence David Peters, who was dying and exposed to enemy fire, Father Capodanno reached him and prayed with him. The last moments of Father Capodanno’s own life was spent praying with and anointing two other marines caught in the fire of an enemy machine gun nest. As he prayed with these men, Father Capodanno was shot 27 times in the back.
In the light of Father Capodanno’s story this Labor Day weekend, are we not reminded of Pope Francis’s words when he referred to the mission of the church as a field hospital? He stated in an interview with America Magazine: “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal their wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up.”
The church needs nearness, proximity. Father Capodanno provided that nearness and proximity to his men as a human being, as a priest, in the sacraments and in prayer.
In the light of neo–Nazi and Klu Klux Klan racism and violence exhibited in Charlottesville, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, despite all of its destructive power, is showing us over and over again, person after person; groups of people after groups of people helping each other without reference to race, belief, religion, sexual orientation, economic or educational status. Human beings helping human beings. The church needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.
This is what the Apostle Paul means when he writes, “Do not conform yourselves to this age.” This instruction is directed toward the Christian to live out the life of Christ in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This is the sacrifice pleasing to God, our bodies and minds in conformity with Christ. This behaviour transforms us and in turn transforms the world. It is being, as Jesus taught, yeast that changes the dough and makes it rise. Transformation has roots in rich soil while condemnations only cause people to turn a deaf ear. As Pope Francis reminds us “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if they have high cholesterol and about the level of their blood sugars!” You have to heal their wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.
Father Capodanno offered his body and mind as a living sacrifice in the midst of the evil of war. Countless humans are offering their bodies and minds as a living sacrifice in the midst of the destruction caused by a natural event. Both are transformed and transforming. Both examples are pleasing to God. Both are exhibiting what it is like to be a field hospital and not conforming to this age.
What are the circumstances of life you and I find ourselves? They are not less heroic than that of first responders and military chaplains. Consider the vocation of parenthood, the person whose work – often multiple jobs today – that supports a family, the student carving out their future and trying to discover who they are through education, sports and relationships, the retired person who has been given the gift of time – how will it all be used to transform themselves and the world? In all these cases Christians are called to behave in a particular way, some things are right and some things are wrong. There are moral directives to be lived out whether we like them or not, whether we understand them or not.
It was Labor Day in the United States on 4 September 1967.
It is Labor Day in the United States 4 September 2017.
What is the labour of Christ, the offering of body and mind as a living sacrifice that you and I do so as to be transformed by Christ and transform the world?
Parts in reference to Fr. Capodanno taken from an article by Father Daniel Mode, Maryknoll, September/October 2017.