Delivers homily at 18th annual Memorial Mass honoring
U.S. military personnel, living and deceased
WASHINGTON, D.C. – His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, celebrated the 18th annual Memorial Mass honoring United States servicemen and women, both living and deceased, on Sunday, the Solemnity of the Ascension, in the Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. More than two dozen priests concelebrated the Mass, which was attended by hundreds of faithful, including distinguished veterans, active-duty military personnel and family members.
EWTN will broadcast the Mass in the U.S. on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, at 12 noon (ET). The broadcast will be repeated on Tuesday, May 29, at 12 a.m. (ET).
During his homily, Archbishop Broglio called on believers to “recommit ourselves to the fundamental values of our Nation and of our faith” while awaiting the return of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Here follows the text of Archbishop Broglio’s homily:
Archbishop Dimino, the second Archbishop for the Military Services, who lives at the Jeanne Jugan Residence recounted an incident from the First World War. Two friends were part of a night patrol in the French countryside. Returning Jack discovered that Tommy was missing and insisted on crawling back out of the foxhole at day break to look for his friend. With great reluctance the officer in charge gave Jack permission and watched as he worked his way into no-man’s land from shell-hole to shell hole.
As night fell again, Jack returned—mortally wounded. As the medics did what they could, the officer said: “I hear you found Tommy.” “Yes, sir, but he only lived for a few minutes.” “I am sorry, Jack, and I wish that I had not let you go.” “Oh no,” Jack replied. “It was worth it. When I found Tommy he said to me, ‘Good old Jack. I knew you’d come back.’” (As told by Father Richard Beyer in The Catholic Heart, Day by Day, p. 231.)
Is that not what motivates us as we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord? Indeed we no longer snuff out the Paschal Candle, because as St. Luke tells us in the first reading, the Lord had the Apostles wait in Jerusalem in prayer until the Holy Spirit came upon them, the logical continuation of the presence and guidance of the Risen Lord with His Church and the assurance that the Lord will return in glory
We, too, gather in prayer to celebrate our condition and mission and to fire up anew the charge to evangelize the world. As the faith-filled community of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, we continue the tradition of gathering this Sunday to celebrate our communion with those who have died in the service of our Country, those who served and are serving, and those who serve them. Like Jack we do not forget both those who selflessly gave and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It is a moment to give thanks and to petition our gracious God for His protection and guidance in a world fraught with confusion.
Yet, it is very clear that this Solemnity celebrates the condition and mission of the Church. The Apostles receive a mission, but they are not to program it—they are only to be at the disposition of the Spirit, promised by the Lord. They must leave their homeland, their security, their expectations and bring the Gospel to faraway places, with no fear of persecutions, trials or refusals. It is the situation of the community of faith at all times.
It is the reality of the faithful of this global particular Church who find themselves in every corner of the world: many in harm’s way and many faithful to their responsibilities, but living in foreign cultures committed to preserving the fundamental principles upon which this Nation was forged.
St. Paul reminds the Ephesians and us that our vocation is characterized by unity. Our daily conduct allows us to offer to the world the image of a Church conformed to the Father’s plan. The Incarnation of Christ reveals the magnificence of human potential and the variety of gifts. Insertion into Christ is always an invitation to realize the greatness of our vocation, despite the restrictions that others might place on our shoulders. Remember that Paul writes his Letter to the Ephesians from prison. The constraints of the civil authorities of his time cannot chain the Gospel.
We are told that a cloud took Jesus from their sight. You remember that often in the Old Testament the presence of God among His people was signed by a cloud. St. Luke wants the cloud to symbolize on one hand the departure of Jesus and on the other His new presence in our midst. “The heavens will be from this day forward the center of gravity for those who are in the world as foreigners and pilgrims. However, today what is important is the mission, the task, witness and evangelization. That is the context for the gentle reproach at the end of the first reading: “why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Diufain.)
There is a clear mandate to continue the work of evangelization. That will be the hallmark of the Church. It is so important in the up-coming Year of Faith announced by the Holy Father. There is a “need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.” (Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 2.)
Do we not hear that clearly in the second conclusion to the Gospel of Mark? Each one of us is sent on mission so that every person might hear the good news of the Resurrection and adhere to Jesus Christ and experience salvation through faith and baptism….In His Name evil can be overcome and illness healed. There is a clear tension: entrance into glory, but presence with His own. The Church of every time continues His living, active, and salvific presence. The Ascension is not an end, but a new beginning.
It is hard to avoid looking up in the celebration of the Ascension—even despite the counsel of the men in white. We lift up our hearts, look heavenward, and transfer our attention to where Christ is at the right of the Father. It is a solemnity that reveals, even now, our belonging to the heavenly Jerusalem (really our prayer for those who died after service to our country). We live in heaven with our heart and soul, but our bodies have yet to arrive.
To the extent that we die with Christ, we ascend and become liberated from the slavery to sin and, thus, more human. The wait for the glorious Christ can seem long, painful, and tedious when we limit our gaze to the sad pages of history or contemporary society. We must cultivate, like the early Christians the sense of immanence. That tension exists between losing sight and knowing how to gather our brothers and sisters in their need, filling their emptiness.
Is that not what motivates this annual gathering? Are we not here to celebrate our communion with those who have sacrificed their lives on battlefields all over the world and with those whose pilgrimage ended in the rigors of old age or due to the effects of war? Do we not also want to beg the Lord for the safety of those in harm’s way? As an Archdiocese are we not also eager to pray for our Catholic priests, stretched to the breaking point due to their limited numbers, in the service of the men and women in uniform and in the VA Medical Centers? As St. John of the Cross reminds us: “There is no better way to see the desires of our heart brought to fruition than to put the strength of our prayer in what is pleasing to God. Then, He will give us not only what we ask, that is salvation, but also whatever He sees as convenient and good for us, even if we do not ask for it.” (Giovanni della Croce, Salita del Monte Carmelo, Libro III, cap. 44, 2, Roma 1991, p.335.)
In this celebration I also include the many intentions which have been sent to me. We sense this communion with so many who are so far away. It is important to thank everyone who has committed himself or herself to the defense of the principles and values upon which our Nation was established. We are acutely aware of the importance of those principles and the sacrifices made to defend them. The Ascension challenges us to abandon the idols that hold us to the earth and prevent our soaring.
Last January I was struck when Pope Benedict clearly reminded the bishops of Region IV: “The Church’s witness… is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.” (Ibid.)
The faith we hold in our hearts must motivate the decisions, the words, and the commitment of our everyday existence. That existence is extraordinary, because it is infused with divine grace. St. Thomas More said that he died the good servant of the King, but the faithful servant of God first. We, too, are faithful citizens only when we embrace the fullness of the principles of our faith and allow them to enliven and fortify our contributions to the life of the Nation. Or to draw on the eloquence of our new neighbor in Baltimore: “We must be loyal Americans by being bold and courageous Catholics!” (Archbishop William Lori, Installation Mass homily, 16. V. 12.)
Is that not in the tradition of St. Joan of Arc, the sixth centennial of whose birth we celebrate this year? Is that not why the Servants of God Emil Kapaun and Vincent Capodanno died serving as priests to their men? Do not the values of our faith contribute to our fidelity as citizens? Jack’s fidelity to Tommy serves to remind all of us to keep the flame of faith burning brightly in our hearts. Then we will be effective witnesses to the presence of Christ and authentic patriots.
As we honor those who have died either on the battlefield or after years of service we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to the fundamental values of our Nation and of our faith. In a particular way I am reminded of the tireless service of the late Bishop Joseph Estabrook. While we lament that he was taken away from us too soon, we would be remiss if we failed to thank Almighty God for all that this faithful servant accomplished, the lives he touched, and the lessons he taught.
In the Acts of the Apostles Luke emphasizes that the Apostles are chosen witnesses to His passion, death, and Resurrection and are now charged to bring that testimony to the ends of the earth. The Lord willed their authority and the continuation of their ministry to the end of time through the Bishops, their successors. We must preach the Gospel in and out of season to pass on what we have received and contribute to your growth. Last Friday in his meeting with the last group of Bishops during their ad limina visits, the Holy Father gave thanks “for the signs of new vitality and hope with which [God] has blessed the Church in the United States of America.” He is praying for us as we face “the challenges of the future.” (Pope Benedict XVI, V ad limina discourse, 18.V.12.)