Calls on U.S. seafarers to follow the example of Father Joseph O’Callahan and put faith in action
EMMITTSBURG, MD. – The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton welcomed hundreds of visitors yesterday for its annual Pilgrimage for the Sea Services. Members of the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and The United States Public Health Service along with family members and friends gathered at the Basilica to attend a special 3:00 p.m. (ET) Mass celebrated this year by His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services. The pilgrimage is held each year to honor Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton as Patroness of the Sea Services and ask for her intercession for all the men and women serving in our nation’s Sea Services, and is the only event of its kind in the United States.
In his homily, Archbishop Broglio invoked the memory of Father Joseph O’Callahan, S.J., a World War II U.S. Navy Chaplain cited with the nation’s highest military honor for his heroic efforts to save fellow crew members aboard a crippled U.S. aircraft carrier. “You all remember his story,” Archbishop Broglio said. “Having given General Absolution to the pilots about to fly off the USS Franklin on 19 March 1945, he was enjoying breakfast in the ward room. Suddenly the enemy attacked the ship and it caught on fire. The sailors were desperately fighting the many fires, and Father O’Callahan joined in. He led some sailors into an area where ammunition was stored and began throwing the 5 inch shells overboard. The shells had become so hot that at any time they could explode, and without concern for his own safety, he helped dispose of the dangerously hot shells. Furthermore he organized a group of men to spray water on the 1,000 pound bombs that also were getting very hot to prevent them from exploding and destroying the ship.”
For his valor, Father O’Callahan received the Medal of Honor. In his homily, Archbishop Broglio quoted from the citation: “he ‘ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths… Serving with courage, fortitude and deep spiritual strength… he inspired the gallant officers and men of the Franklin to fight heroically and with profound faith in the face of almost certain death…’ (Cited by Father Richard Beyer in The Catholic Heart Day by Day, p. 43.) He was, of course, motivated by his faith and the sure knowledge that he could offer something unique to those in his pastoral care and to all aboard the damaged ship.”
Archbishop Broglio called on those gathered at the National Shrine to follow Father Callahan’s example of commitment and sacrifice. “Do you think he woke up that morning and decided to be a hero and a leader of men?,” the Archbishop asked. “I doubt it. Father O’Callahan knew something about commitment, because he had made one in his vows as a Jesuit and in his solemn engagement through ordination. Therefore, it seems singularly appropriate to me that we hear a ringing message about the matrimonial commitment at this celebration when we honor and pray for the men and women of the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and Public Health Service who selflessly have served or serve our Nation. From a spiritual viewpoint, a sound commitment requires an understanding of sacrifice and faith nurtured by the example of children.”
Here follow excerpts from Archbishop Broglio’s homily:
“… Last Sunday in Philadelphia we heard Pope Francis inspire us with these words about commitment: ‘We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God! May the Lord help us to be sharers in the prophecy of peace, of tenderness and affection in the family. May his word help us to share in the prophetic sign of watching over our children and our grandparents with tenderness, with patience and with love.’ (Pope Francis, Homily at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, 27.IX.15.)
“Commitment is something you all understand. It requires a giving of self. Christ the Lord does not hesitate to set commitment before us when He teaches about that fundamental relationship in our society, upon which every other commitment is built. His example must inspire spouses and urge them to live fully the grace of marriage, even to the point of the utmost generous love. What might seem ordinary in terms of family life becomes extraordinary, because it is graced by Almighty God.
“The Gospel passage this Sunday does not shy away from a discourse about matrimonial fidelity and the welcoming of children. The teaching is demanding, but inspired by love and intends to defend authentic love. Such love is based on mutual self-giving and not two self-serving entities….
“Of course, commitment is not easy. You all know that. You learned it in the Academies, TBS, boot camp, or the real-life situations of combat. On not a few visits to air-craft carriers I have been reminded that every person on a flight deck has a responsibility and each one depends on the other. Together they accomplish the mission…
“The first reading from the Book of Genesis, or as it is called in Hebrew: beginning, reminds us that the human person was not created to be alone, but to live in community. A community thrives when each member give the best he or she can. It thrives where a Father O’Callahan leads and others follow. The Triune God, a community of being, who is love, created the human person to communicate His love and make him able to live in love. Therefore, Eve was given life. Man and woman were creatures equal in dignity. Their union and relationship are stronger than that between any other beings, transforming even the relationship with parents…
“Even the Risen Lord, whom we honor and celebrate every Sunday, presents His glorified body with the marks of the passion and death. There can be no Easter without Good Friday and the passion and death of the Messiah find meaning in the Resurrection. How well we understand the truth about sacrifice! Wounded warriors, fallen comrades, shattered lives all cry out for our remembrance at the altar today. We cannot fail to raise them up in prayer.
“Sacrifice is a value not easily perceived in our world where entitlement is the rule. The tee shirt is given to you for showing up and everyone gets a trophy. That method is not instructive and fails to prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s reality.
“However, we can learn from children. The Lord Jesus cites the example of children in the face of the disciples’ desire to function as gatekeepers for Him. What makes children exemplary? It is their willingness, receptivity, and unashamed dependency on another. A commentator saw in them a similarity to the empty hand of a beggar. They have no standing on which to recommend themselves and cannot boast. They do not pretend to take with force what will be given to them. (Cf. E. Schweizer cited by A. Pranzato in Il Vangelo in Casa, p. 308.)…
“The Lord uses the child as a model for us, because He calls us to be amazed continually by His presence, love, and power in our contemporary world. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, mother and foundress, knew about children and raised two of her own to serve in the Navy. Our first native-born saint teaches us to ask the Lord for the openness of a child, His child, ever eager to grow in faith and to make use of the talents received to build up the Body of Christ.
“Father O’Callahan is one of many models of the finest response of the men and women who wear the uniforms of the Sea Services. We pray for their safety. We ask for their example in our striving to maintain sound commitments, endure sacrifice, and cultivate the openness of a child. May our prayers be heard.”