Homilies for August 2020

For August 2, August 9, the Assumption of Mary, August 16, August 23, and August 30.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 2, 2020

  Readings: Is 55:1–3 • Ps 145:8–9, 15–18 • Rom 8:35, 37–39 • Mt 14:13–21
  usccb.org/bible/readings/080220.cfm

“What will separate us from the love of Christ?”

I used to live in Northern Virginia before coming to the Diocese of Charlotte four years ago. I ministered at the Stafford Detention Facility in Stafford County, Virginia, for sixteen years. Stafford Detention Facility is a state facility that houses inmates in a 24-week diversion program (in lieu of them going to a long term state prison facility) where, once their time was completed, the inmates were allowed to return to their communities. Each week, I presented a Catholic-oriented prayer and Scripture discussion for any of the inmates who desired to attend. I used the Scripture readings from the Sunday liturgy as a basis of our discussions. Many of the inmates that came to the Catholic service were Protestant or lapsed Catholics and had questions or misconceptions about our Holy Catholic Church and what she teaches. I was able to calmly explain our faith to them and answer their questions, and most of them would attend each week for the duration of their stay. My main focus was to show them that there is a good, loving, and forgiving God who cares for them and their well being. Most did not believe that they were worthy of God’s love and mercy as they came from broken and often times abusive families.

I tried to make the Scriptures come alive for them to help them apply the messages to their everyday lives and teach them of the dignity they all possessed. An inmate (Brian), after completing one of our weekly Catholic prayer and Scripture services, told me that he was inspired by what the Scriptures were saying and about the love that Jesus has for all — even those incarcerated. He told me that the weekly service was so valuable to him and that he was not sure he would have made it through the program without it. Others told me that Brian would often lead them in prayer and Scripture discussions during other times of the week. Brian told me on the last night before he was due to leave to go home that he would never forget how God came alive for him during the Catholic service. Brian had a job waiting for him once he got out and he was going to use his opportunity to live a better life in his community. Within two weeks of having left prison, Brian was killed in a tragic accident.

In our second reading today, we hear that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Saint Paul teaches us that, no matter whom we are or what we have done, God’s love can conquer all. God’s love transcends all else that we may encounter in our lives. Paul’s examples are that nothing in the spiritual world, the physical world, nor time nor space, nothing at all can separate us from our loving Father. There is one catch to this which is made clear in other writings of Saint Paul and in the Gospel messages. Mortal sin is the only thing that cuts us off from God and his grace in our lives. His love is certainly all-encompassing and all-healing, but we must take the first step in being sorry for our sins and confessing them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God will never violate our free will to reject Him through our sins, but He will always love us and He gives us His bread of life to sustain us through all our trials and tribulations here on earth.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus took pity on the crowd and he feeds the five thousand. This miracle that combines the natural with the supernatural is a precursor to our receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the Apostles to give to the people. Notice that he doesn’t give the bread directly himself to the people, but he uses the apostles, the first ordained ministers of the Church, to distribute the bread to the crowd. Just like at Mass, our priest celebrant, acting in persona Christi, will take the consecrated host, break it, and consume it along with the Precious Blood, and then give smaller hosts to ministers to help him distribute them to the faithful. Jesus feeds us all through the actions of our priests. This Bread of Life, broken for us all, will help us be free from sin and death, and keep us in the love of God. The free gift of love God gives to us will sustain us throughout all our lives, keep us in His grace, and help us in times of great need or temptation, or strife, or in moments of potential despair — in other words, when difficult times are upon us, God’s love will see us through.

Like Brian, who previously let his life of crime come between him and Jesus; who then turned his life over to Jesus during His incarceration; who was able to not only get through his prison time, but also to profit from the time that he was given by helping others in the prison see Christ in a new light. His willingness to forgo watching TV, or shooting pool, or lamenting his misfortune to be locked up, and to lead Bible discussions and prayer sessions for others in prison, has born much fruit in those inmates he left behind. After his death, those he mentored who remained behind bars but questioned “why?” came to understand that for Brian the journey home to the Father began on earth in Stafford Detention Facility, and by his death Brian was so much closer to God, even if he had to spend time in Purgatory. This gave them and gives us all hope that it is never a waste of time to love God and to serve him in this life, and that it is never too late to repent and make changes in our own lives. Also, we Catholics should strive to receive Jesus in the Eucharist as often as we can, to strengthen us for life’s journey because we never know when we will be called home to rest in God. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love unless we ourselves allow it by choosing our sins over Him. Let us resolve to always stay in the love of Jesus, and never be separated from him and let us ask the Father to send his Holy Spirit to guide us through whatever comes our way in this life.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 9, 2020

  Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11–13a • Ps 85:9–14 • Rom 9:1–5 • Mt 14:22–33
  usccb.org/bible/readings/080920.cfm

“‘Lord save me!’ Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our parish has been holding Mass outside, using an altar that was lovingly built a couple of years ago into a stone grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. We hold Mass there rather than in the Church because Father does not want to have to turn anyone away from Holy Mass. If we followed the guidelines for social distancing inside the Church, we could only have less than a third of the people attend Mass that we have attending by following social distancing guidelines outside at the grotto. Most times during the day, it is a very peaceful setting for prayer and meditation, and many different groups and individuals come to pray or recite the Rosary or just to meditate and feel God’s presence under the shade trees. However, we are near a hospital and a fairly busy street, and there are always cars going by and often we will hear the ambulance sirens sounding off. I don’t normally pay any attention to the cars that go by except the occasional ones whose broken mufflers you can feel the vibrations of in your soul.

One particular day during Mass, right at the consecration when Father said, “This is my body” — a noisy plane flew overhead at the same time an ambulance in full siren drove by, followed by a loud motorcycle in need of a muffler — I was having a particularly difficult time concentrating on Jesus and his presence — and then it hit me that literally Jesus was not in the plane or the ambulance or the motorcycle — no, Jesus was present on the little altar in the form of bread and wine newly consecrated by our pastor, and all I needed to do was to focus on Jesus and block out all the distraction. And after these loud, noisy distractions passed, I felt a cool and quiet breeze and I remembered the passage from our first reading about Elijah hearing God’s voice in the whisper of the quiet breeze, and a real calm came over me at that moment. Jesus was truly and substantially present on the altar and my attention need not be anywhere else. My task was to focus on Him and to anticipate with great joy receiving Him at Holy Communion.

The first reading for today tells us that God was not in the winds or the earthquake or in the fire, but Elijah encountered Him in the whispering sound, in the calm. Elijah hid his face in his cloak in awe of God. In our second reading today, Saint Paul loves Jesus so distinctively and he wants so much for his fellow Jews to love Jesus, too, that he was almost willing to sacrifice his love for Christ if only those Jews who had rejected Jesus would come into the fold. Such great love for Jesus Saint Paul shows to us. To sacrifice the love of the very person we need most in this world — Jesus Christ — for Paul — it must have been so painful to see his fellow Jews reject the Messiah that they had been awaiting for centuries — the Messiah anointed for them and for the world. Paul suffered many hardships for this Messiah and would ultimately give his very life for Jesus. Faith such as this, we can only hope to have in our lives.

In our Gospel story this day, Jesus saves Peter from literally drowning in the water as he walked on the water at Jesus’s beckoning, but Peter sank as he lost focus on Jesus. As Peter sank, he cried out to Jesus to save him and Our Lord did just that. Jesus then gave Peter a mild rebuke for having so little faith. We must have faith in Jesus Christ. Have faith that he is who he says he is and in what was attested by the Apostles in the boat — “He is the Son of God!” Have faith that Jesus will heal us from our sins and help us through all of our trials in this life. No matter what we face, there is nothing that we and Jesus together cannot overcome. Elijah demonstrated such faith in God! Saint Paul demonstrated such faith in Jesus! We must demonstrate our faith in Jesus by coming to know him more fully. Where do we come to know our Lord? My friends, we must take some time this summer to find Jesus in the quiet moments of our stormy and hectic lives. We can find him in the quiet touch of a loved one, in the breath of a cool breeze on a hot summer night, in the small light that breaks the morning darkness, or in the twinkling smile of a child. We can meet Jesus in all forms of created life and in all people we encounter if we would just take the time to recognize him. If we could just for a moment try to see Him in the poor and lonely and marginalized. If we could try to see him in the one who is begging from us and who is in need of a bath. If we could only see Him in those who may be different from us as we take some time to get to know them more than just on the surface. Jesus is the Lord God almighty and if we saw him in all his glory, we would surely cower in awe and in knowing we are not worthy of him, yet he seeks us out to be in his loving presence in the calm of our lives while helping us to overcome the storms we face in everyday life.

We will encounter Jesus in today’s Mass in receiving him in Holy Communion. Let us prepare our hearts for him and rejoice to be in his real presence. Jesus will be there for us no matter what circumstances nor no matter how hard the times we are experiencing, as long as we ask him to be with us — he will be there carrying us if we need that and helping us cross over our troubled waters — if only we would believe in him. Saint Faustina teaches us to say through her Divine Mercy encounter with Jesus: “Jesus, I trust in you!” O Lord, we pray that you will stretch out your loving hand, and save us from the storms in our lives as we believe so very much in you and trust in your loving goodness! Jesus, help us to love as you as you love us and keep us always in your loving gaze! Help us to trust that when we see others — we see you. Whisper your love to us through the soft breeze as we negotiate our lives through all the noise and distractions.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – August 15, 2020

  Readings:
  Vigil: 1 Chr 15:3–4, 15–16; 16:1–2 • Ps 132:6–7, 9–10, 13–14 • 1 Cor 15:54b–57 • Lk 11:27–28
  Day: Rv 11:19a; 12:1–6a, 10ab • Ps 45:10–12, 16 • 1 Cor 15:20–27 • Lk 1:39–56
  usccb.org/bible/readings/081520.cfm

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.”

In my former parish church in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, Saint Bernadette’s, the altar was created for and used by Saint John Paul II to say Mass in the National Mall on October 7, 1979, during his visit to Washington, DC. At the conclusion of his visit, organizers looked for a church that could use an altar and Saint Bernadette’s was chosen. Little did they know that it was an altar reverenced by a saint while celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on that beautiful day in October. I had the honor to assist at Mass on the morning that Pope Francis canonized Pope Saint John Paul II and as I reverenced the altar, it donned on me that I was reverencing an altar that was now a relic of Saint John Paul II.

We as a Church and as a Christian people have preserved items worn or used by saintly people during their lives, their bones or their hair, or their clothing, or even their altars. We do not believe that these blessed objects are magic — which is humans calling on the spiritual to use objects for some personal gain — but that God, the almighty Father, has blessed these individuals and, through his grace and blessings of these saintly people, their relics are made holy. Also, in some cases, people have been cured by just touching one of these items — these relics of the saints. In Scripture, it is recorded that a person was cured by touching the bones of Elisha the prophet. It is easy to document that, from the first, Christians gave homage to saints. Many towns wanted the honor of being the last resting place of the most famous saints. For example, the remains of Saint James the Apostle, brother of Saint John, are said to have been moved to Santiago de Compostela in Spain after his martyrdom in Jerusalem.

The relics of saints were protected and venerated in the earliest days of Christianity. The bones of those martyred in the Coliseum, for example, were preserved — there are numerous stories of this in the written accounts of those who died for the Faith. Mary completed her life on earth either in Jerusalem or in Ephesus, where she had been cared for by Saint John. However, no city has ever claimed her bodily remains. And why did no city claim her remains? Because there weren’t any remains to claim, and those who lived at that time in Jerusalem or Ephesus knew it. There is no record of Mary’s bodily remains being venerated anywhere — none — Mary, the Mother of God — admittedly the greatest saint of our Church — no remains venerated.

The Assumption of Mary is not a new belief. The Doctors of the Church and the Fathers of the Church down through the centuries wrote about the logic of the privilege of Mary’s Assumption. The underlying proofs considered include Mary’s Immaculate Conception and freedom from sin; Mary as Mother of God; Mary’s perpetual virginity; and the most important — her oneness with the works of salvation of her son, Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the Assumption says that at the end of her life on earth Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven by the power of her son, Jesus. The Fathers taught that she was assumed into heaven just as Enoch, Elijah, and potentially others had been before her. Many non-Catholics incorrectly think we Catholics believe Mary “ascended” into heaven. Christ, by his own power, ascended into heaven. Mary was taken up into heaven by God. She didn’t do it under her own power.

It follows that Mary, immaculately conceived without sin, would be assumed into heaven, body and soul, because the result of sin is death and decay of the body — and Mary had no sin in her life. My pastor was a convert from the Lutheran Church and when he was studying the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption, his Protestant mother asked him how he could rationalize the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption. He responded to her question very simply and lovingly, but very profoundly. He told his mother that if he was in heaven and had the power to assume her into heaven to be with him, he would do it in a heartbeat. Mary’s Assumption gives us who believe even more hope in the resurrection of our own bodies on the last day because Mary is in heaven, body and soul, and she prays for us to join her. My dear friends, Mary is our mother and she intercedes for us with Jesus, her son. Mary loves us as her own children. She is Queen of Heaven and she gives us an example of how to respond to God’s call in our lives.

Her humility provides us all with a perfect roadmap for how to deal with other people we encounter in our pursuit of the heavenly kingdom, where she reigns beside Jesus as Queen Mother. When we say “yes” to God, we are being like Mary. When we do good things for others in life, we are acting like Mary. When we love life and work to preserve it on earth, we are mirroring the life of Mary. When our hearts are broken and we think they will never heal, we call upon Mary whose Immaculate Heart was nearly torn in two at the suffering and death of Jesus, her son, on the Cross. In your need or in the needs of your families or friends, I ask you to call upon Mary, our mother, to intercede for you with Jesus. Mary, full of grace from the beginning, never turns her back on anyone. Let us call upon her now for whatever aches in our hearts, and ask her prayers for us and our families and for our troubled world, and let us believe that Jesus will listen to her and respond in answer to her prayers. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 16, 2020

  Readings: Is 56:1, 6–7 • Ps 67:2–3, 5–6, 8 • Rom 11:13–15, 29–32 • Mt 15:21–28
  usccb.org/bible/readings/081620.cfm

“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David.”

In Iraq, the Church is still in danger of disappearing. Over the past decade it has shrunk from nearly 1.5 million to less than 200,000. The crisis in Syria spilled over into Iraq during the reign of one of the most terror- and hate-filled groups, ISIS. ISIS, before they were defeated in Iraq and Syria, committed mass executions, set churches on fire, and by force applied their radical interpretation of Islamic law. Thousands of Christians were among the nearly half million people who fled from these brutal terrorists, many fleeing with little more than what they could carry. The small churches in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq did their best to care for those in need. When many of the Christians returned home, they found their homes were taken over by others and that they were still not welcome in their lands. Christians are being persecuted all over the world and still very little is being done about it. Women and children are bearing the brunt of these attacks where unspeakable abuses are happening to them daily.

In the United States, we’ve had the defacing and burning of statues of our Blessed Mother and even the burning of one of the mission Churches in California. From the Middle East to China and the Far East in Asian lands, to Africa and beyond, reaching to all parts of the world including the Americas, if not under physical attack and abuse, Christians and our values are all under attack by secular media, atheists, agnostics, and even others like politicians, who are Catholic or Christian in name, but like to pick and choose what they want to believe as they portray values counter to the Faith publicly and vote for these great evils like abortion or euthanasia. With five Catholics on the Supreme Court, a recent challenge to legalized abortion rights was struck down because two Catholic justices voted against the provision. Persecution of Christians and the mocking of our beliefs are nothing new.

The Church has been under persecution and ridicule since they killed our Founder by hanging him on a cross, and we will be under persecution and ridicule until our Founder returns in glory, to judge the living and the dead. What can we do? How can we help? Do we throw up our hands in frustration and say that there is nothing we can do? Do we shut our minds and hearts off to the rest of the world, the persecuted Christian peoples who need support? Do we bury our heads into our own activities and pursuits, ignoring the plight of others? Or do we take a stand for them? Do advocate for them? Do we pray for them and for their courage and their ability to persevere? In our own area, do we refuse to vote for those in public office who claim to believe in one thing privately but support great evils as legal publicly? Do we refute the ridicule from others that do not understand our Christian morals and beliefs? Or do we just remain silent and safe? Do we just hope that these great injustices, persecutions, mockings, and tragedies will go away on their own?

The prophet Isaiah in our first reading tells us, “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” There will be justice. Saint Paul tells us there will also be great mercy, the kind of which only God can bring to the world. The Apostles in our Gospel reading wanted to send away the woman calling out to Jesus. In those days, the culture dictated that men did not have public encounters with women who were not their own relatives and, secondly, Jesus and the disciples were traveling outside of Jewish territory seeking to minister to the lost people from Israel in those lands. The Messiah was only coming to save the chosen people of Israel was the belief at the time.

It was only gradually that Jesus revealed to his Apostles his universal mission to the world and to all peoples. It was only gradually that the Apostles, even in times of great persecution, spread throughout the lands, bringing both Jews and Gentiles to the Faith. These lands in the Middle East contain some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Jesus tested the faith of this Canaanite woman, yes, just as our faith is being tested day in and day out. She displayed the kind of faith that was lacking throughout much of Israel, and because of her great faith Jesus healed her daughter. The faith of these Christian communities in many lands are surely being tested today just as our own faith and beliefs are being challenged. Jesus came to save us all from our sinfulness and selfishness.

To be a Christian today is to be a person of conviction and a person of perseverance if we really seek to live out the teachings of the Church in the world today. To be a Christian in our world today is to be someone who is involved in speaking out against injustice, hatred, violence, ignorance, prejudice, racism, and persecution. To be a Christian in our world today is to be someone who loves others and will stand up for those things we hold most precious from our faith. To be a Christian in our world today is to be someone who is not afraid to work for the peace and justice of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter where they live. To be a member of our Catholic community is to embrace the true meaning of being Catholic — “universal” — by recognizing that when any of the Christians around the world are hated and persecuted, that it is we as a whole who are being hated and persecuted along with them and that we stand with them in spirit. My sisters and brothers, we must decide after an examination of our own feelings, thoughts, and actions, where we stand and who we will support with our prayers, finances, votes, and public actions. Are we a universal Church, or aren’t we? We can no longer ignore those who are in plight and we must act to help them. We must show that great faith displayed by the woman in the Gospel and we must take whatever actions we can to alleviate the pain and sufferings of others in our world. We must be willing to pray and make sacrifices for our persecuted sisters and brothers. And we must learn to love as Jesus did when he gave his life for us all so we could be free from sin.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 23, 2020

  Readings: Is 22:19–23 • Ps 138:1–3, 6, 8 • Rom 11:33–36 • Mt 16:13–20
  usccb.org/bible/readings/082320.cfm

“You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.”

In today’s Gospel, Christ told Simon that his name would be Peter, which translates as “Rock.” Why call Simon the fisherman “Rock”? Receiving a new name meant that the status of the person was changed, as when Jacob’s name was changed to Israel or Abram’s name was changed to Abraham. But no Jew was ever named “Rock.” In the rest of the New Testament, Simon is called by his new name, Peter. Jesus also promised that the Church would be founded, in some way, on Peter and the gates of hell would not ever prevail against this Church. Then two significant things were told to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Here Peter was given the authority on earth to forgive sins and govern this Church founded upon him by Christ. In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, the Apostles as a whole would be given similar power, but here Peter received it in a special way. Christ promised Peter alone: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Keys represented, in ancient times, authority. So, then, to be given the key to a city meant to be given authority over that city. Heaven itself, or the New Jerusalem, is the city to which Peter was given the keys. This symbolism for authority was used in our first reading from Isaiah, where Eliakim was given authority symbolized by the keys, which meant he was second only to the king, more like a prime minister, and he could act on the king’s authority. Peter and his successors, the unbroken line of popes, are second only to our King, Jesus Christ.

There is overwhelming evidence in the New Testament that Peter was first in authority among the Apostles. Whenever they were named, Peter headed the list. Peter was the one who generally spoke for the Apostles. Peter worked the first healing miracle in the age of the Church, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus asked Peter alone to strengthen his brethren, and Peter is given Christ’s flock to shepherd. John’s Gospel says that Mary Magdalen ran to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved about the empty tomb on Easter morning. Peter headed the meeting that elected Matthias to replace Judas, and, on Pentecost, Peter preached the kerygma and received the first converts through baptism. Peter led the first council in Jerusalem and pronounced the doctrinal decision of the council, where James discussed the pastoral application of the decision. Peter received the revelation that Gentiles were to be baptized and accepted as Christians. Peter’s preeminent position among the Apostles was symbolized at the very beginning of his relationship with Christ as recorded in today’s Gospel, and this authority is passed down through apostolic succession to the bishop of Rome, Rome being the city where Saint Peter was martyred for the Faith and where he led the Church for many years.

The teaching authority of the Pope in conjunction with the bishops is derived directly from Christ. We can be comforted in knowing that when the Pope makes a ruling or pronouncement, or promulgates a teaching on faith and morals, that the teaching comes from Christ and is prompted by the Holy Spirit. The most comforting words in this Gospel reading today are Jesus promising that the gates of the netherworld (hell) will never prevail over his Church founded upon the Rock, Peter. There have been many attacks on the Church’s teachings over the centuries, but none have caused the slightest change in essence of the teachings of Christ through his Church. I strongly urge us to get to know this Church of ours in a new way.

I challenge all to come to know what she teaches but more importantly why she teaches it. Strengthen your faith with the knowledge of the truths of the Church about how to live according to Jesus’s teachings. There are valid answers to moral questions, both in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition, that have been and continue to be taught by the Pope and bishops together, the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium). There are answers to the questions of our salvation and on why we honor the saints and Mary; there are answers to why we worship God at Mass and how we receive God’s graces through the reception of the sacraments. There are answers to questions on Church teachings on the sinfulness of abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, sex before marriage, and contraception. The answers are there and we can look for them through Catholic adult-education classes, Catholic Scripture commentaries, and Catholic websites, in union with the teachings of the Holy Father, that promote the Catechism of the Catholic Church and help explain the teachings therein.

I urge all to fall in love with this Church of ours, this Church of our Lord, Jesus Christ, founded upon Peter and the Apostles. Even with all the warts and failings of some leaders throughout her 2000-year history, the Church has survived and even thrived because Christ has provided his grace that saints be raised up in the Church to preserve his love for us and show us examples of how to live — not only because the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church, but also the Church will storm those gates and keep evil at bay —- and God’s grace will prevail over all things of this world and also of the next world — the world of the New Jerusalem — God’s heavenly city. May Jesus wrap all of us in his most healing love, and comfort us in our sorrow, that the joy of his life in which we share will come to us all through his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the only place on earth we can receive him, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Holy Eucharist. The only place we can be truly forgiven by Christ for our offenses against God and others. The only place we can rest in the knowledge that the Church founded upon the Rock, Peter, is our very own Catholic Church.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 30, 2020

  Readings: Jer 20:7–9 • Ps 63:2–6, 8–9 • Rom 12:1–2 • Mt 16:21–27
  usccb.org/bible/readings/083020.cfm

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Vincent Capodanno joined the Catholic Foreign Mission Society, the Maryknolls, where he was ordained in 1958 to the priesthood. He went to the missions in Taiwan, where he served the Church and the people faithfully for six years. He developed by discernment a strong notion of serving as a chaplain in the military for those going to Vietnam and requested his order to allow him to serve as a chaplain. Eventually, the Maryknoll superiors granted this request, and, after finishing Officer Candidate School in 1966, Father Capodanno reported to the 7th Marines in Vietnam. As the chaplain for the battalion, his immediate focus was the young enlisted troops or “grunts.” In fact, he was affectionately given the title of “Grunt Padre” by those he served.

It was during his second tour on September 4, 1967, with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines that Father Vincent Capodanno made the ultimate sacrifice. After hours of heavy fighting from a North Vietnamese ambush, Father Capodanno, himself seriously injured and refusing to be evacuated, having been wounded in the hand, arms, and legs while administering the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to wounded Marines — ran to the assistance of a wounded corpsman and the Marine the corpsman was assisting, who were pinned down by an enemy machine gunner. Father Capodanno administered medical and spiritual attention to the both of them. The enemy opened fire on the unarmed Father Capodanno, who sustained 27 bullet wounds and died making the ultimate sacrifice while serving his flock to the very end. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1969 in addition to other military awards including the Purple Heart. Before his sacrificial death, he was widely known for his willingness to share the hardships of suffering Marines — “radiating Christ” to those around him.

The cause for his sainthood has been opened by the Church and he has been declared a Servant of God. In our second reading from Saint Paul, we are urged to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. He tells us to “be transformed by the renewal of our minds” that we may “discern the will of God” in our lives. In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells us in very poetic language that even when he desires to abandon his calling from God to speak God’s word to His people — because of the persecution Jeremiah has endured and is sure to endure again — the need to proclaim God becomes like fire burning in his heart — so much so that he cannot hold it in and must proclaim God’s message no matter the personal cost to himself. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to take up our crosses and follow him. Jesus even strongly rebukes Peter after announcing that he must suffer greatly and be killed, when Peter becomes an obstacle to Jesus’s own sacrifice by telling Jesus no such thing shall ever happen to him. No matter what, the will of God must prevail in our lives!

We are called to discern God’s will for us and then do everything we can to fulfill it. Taking up our crosses and following Jesus is not an easy proposition, I’ll grant you — but doing it is a most fulfilling and rewarding way to live (the ultimate reward coming in the next life!). Many have asked me how to know God’s will for themselves. Most importantly, we must first ask his will for us in prayer. We have to develop a prayer life and a relationship with God and his Son, Jesus, before we can come to understand what he wills for us. We have to be open for the many ways God communicates with us — through prayer, through the Scriptures, and through others. And we must be willing to do the work; to make the sacrifice of time devoted to the pursuit of God’s unique will for us. We have to make time to pray. We have to make time to read the Scriptures. And we have to take the time to talk with those we respect in whatever field our prayers and Scripture studies are leading us to. Many have worked out God’s will in their lives by seeking the advice of a spiritual director who helped them discern for themselves what God was calling them to do. The advisor doesn’t tell them what to do — he or she helps them determine for themselves the direction in which God is leading them.

Once we have discerned God’s will for us, then we have to take action to follow it no matter the obstacles in the way. If it is God’s will for us, we will pass over, around, or through the obstacles with his help. Even if we get on the wrong path for a while, if we are open, God will lead us back to where we are supposed to be. To sacrifice is to love and to love is to decide. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice of love for us on the Cross and reconciled us all with his heavenly Father. We are called to sacrifice for others in doing God’s will — by carrying our crosses in love. Father Vincent Capodanno made the ultimate sacrifice of love for his fellow Marines on the battlefield while doing God’s will in his life. He was willing to lose his life in this world so that he could find it in Jesus. We must do the same, but we aren’t alone. We have the Church who feeds us the Bread of Life and distributes God’s manifold graces to us to help us. We have Mary and the saints to intercede for us. And, ultimately, we have Jesus, who helps us carry our crosses and who loves us beyond measure and will provide his love until the end of our journey in this world so we can share eternal life with Him in heaven, where eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor can the heart of man comprehend what God has ready for those who love him.

Deacon David Powers About Deacon David Powers

Deacon Dave was ordained for the Diocese of Arlington (2011) and was recently incardinated in the Diocese of Charlotte (2020). Deacon Dave served at Saint Bernadette Catholic Church, Springfield, VA, and currently serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Monroe, NC. In addition to his normal diaconal duties, Deacon Dave serves as the Director of Faith Formation for the parish.

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