Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day, the day we gratefully remember

It wouldn't be right not to post something for Memorial Day. While for most of my fellow citizens it is a day to remember our beloved dead in general, let's not forget, even as we do that, the primary purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our great nation.

Since he was just awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, I am thinking today of Fr. Emil Kapaun, who served as a U.S. Army chaplain during the Korean War. Fr. Kapaun was executed while being held as a prisoner-of-war. Before and during his captivity, during which he was beaten many times by his captors, Emil Kapaun never ceased ministering to those the Lord, in His infinite wisdom and unfailing care, had put in his pastoral charge, Catholic or not. There is a growing ground-swell of support for his canonization, which I support. Please visit the website. Really, this is how canonizations should happen, start with the acclamation and veneration of a holy man or woman by the faithful and bubble up.

Here are some words of Fr. Kapaun's from one of his homilies delivered at his parish in Kansas, Saint John Nepomucene: "Saints were much different than the ideas we have from worldly things. Their values were true and lasting values, not the passing, trivial things of this world."

As relayed in the book The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier, and Korean War Hero, by Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying, as it became clear Kapaun was going to be taken and executed, he exhorted his comrades not to fight and stir-up more trouble for themselves on his behalf. He handed his gold ciborium, his stole, and the holy oils to Lt. Walter Mayo and told him, "Tell them I died a happy death." To another, Ralph Edwards, he handed over a prayer book and said, "You know the prayers, Ralph, keep holding the services, don't let them make you stop." One soldier grabbed Kapaun by the arm and said, "I'm terribly sorry." Emil Kapaun looked at him and said, "You're sorry for me? I am going to be with Jesus Christ. And that is what I have worked for all my life... You should be happy for me." To another soldier he had counseled he said, "When you get back to Jersey, you get that marriage straightened out, or I'll come down from heaven and kick you in the ass." To yet another grieving soldier he said, "Don't take it hard Mike, I'm going where I always wanted to be. And when I get up there, I'll say a prayer for you all."

Fr. Emil Kapaun

Echoes of the Last Supper, n'est ce pas? A priest acting in persona Christi captis in a most transcendent and luminous way!

My friends, this is the victory we have in Jesus Christ. To my mind, this is how it looks this side of heaven. Christ strengthens us in our abject powerlessness, using our powerlessness to show His glory. In one of his homilies, given back in Kansas, Fr. Kapaun said, "First of all we must be humble enough to acknowledge that we are too poor to help ourselves and are in great need of help."

Praising God under the worst circumstances #winning!

St. Paul, in what may well be the first book of the New Testament to be written, urges the Christians in ancient Thessaloniki- "See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:15-18). Even a man as holy as Emil Kapaun struggled with this, struggled with loving his captors, those who mercilessly beat him and ultimately killed him, but, by the grace of God, he succeeded, which is why we can say, I believe, "Emil Kapaun, pray for us!"

Just think of how many gave their lives heroically and whose stories are lost to us. But nothing is lost to God. Above all, today is a day of gratitude, or thanksgiving, which is what Eucharist means.

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