The picture above was taken in Iraq during Midnight Mass, Christmas 2005. With the assistance of then-Bishop Niederauer, I was able to obtain faculties as a deacon in the U.S. Military Archdiocese and assist Fr. Fitzpatrick, who had pastoral care of literally thousands of Catholics, during my off-duty hours, which was a great privilege even though I worked 12 hrs a day 7 days a week!
During this Mass a mortar hit nearby and rocked the tent, which was not our usual chapel, due to the size of the congregation. Father Dave stopped Mass, looked at Brig. Gen. Gorenc, who motioned to just keep going. So we all continued making the Prince of Peace present where He most needed to be, together. During that Advent I was able to participate in and preach at probably the one and only penitential service at which general absolution was given in my whole life. It was done with proper ecclesial approval, given to troops in combat. I know from my pastoral follow-up that many returned to the practice of the faith that year and later made good confessions.
Just a few memories of many over many years of service that has been part of my entire adult life. It will be strange not to have this commitment of service, which I hope, in its own way, was diakonia.
While my military retirement isn't official until 1 January 2011, tomorrow is my last duty day. Today, at my request, I brought my military career to an end in a quiet and unceremonial way by enjoying lunch in my old unit's lounge with old comrades and new comrades, just telling stories about our service together. I was always a reluctant warrior, but somehow it all worked out over the years. I am certainly a better man because of it all. If nothing else (there is plenty "else"), it taught me not to always put myself first and, believe it or not, compassion.