Memorial Day and the Ministry of Presence of Military Priest Chaplains

This Memorial Day, the Church joins the country in remembering and praying for the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country – in service to you and to me.  We pray for their families, and also for active duty personnel and their supportive families who in their own way make many sacrifices.  The archdiocesan pastoral plan Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family speaks of the importance of parishes too in making a special effort to pray for our military personnel and support their families, especially those who have been deployed away from home.

The Church, however, does not merely support servicemen and women from afar.  Our spiritual family goes out to them and accompanies them wherever they go. The archdiocese is fortunate to have a long history of our priests serving as active duty chaplains embedded in all branches of the military. These chaplains are there to care for active duty military who are living at bases around the globe, for those who are on the front lines, and they are even there on the battlefield in the midst of combat.

The Archdiocese for Military Services describes military chaplaincy as a “a personal ministry of presence, caring for the needs of Catholic military personnel and their families.”  Chaplains follow our men and women to places where they may be in harm’s way to be able to support them through prayer, the celebration of the sacraments and counseling.  Many times, it is our priest chaplains who are present and giving spiritual care and comfort in the final moments of a service member’s life. What a blessing it is for those in uniform to be able to have guidance, make their confessions and receive the Eucharist before risking their lives, and to have a priest at their side for a sacramental anointing if they are injured or if they give that last full measure of devotion.

The indispensable Catholic impact of chaplains in the lives of others, and the sometimes heroic sacrifices that they make, are highlighted in a particular way in those priest chaplains who have received the Medal of Honor, including Father Vincent Capodanno, who was killed in battle, and Father Emil Kapaun, who was held as a prisoner of war, both of whom are also being considered in proceedings for sainthood.  Other recipients include Father Charles J. Watters, who was also killed in action, and Father Joseph O’Callahan, who ministered to injured sailors in the midst of a bombing attack.

All of these honored men exemplify the faith and courage that comes only in close relationship with our Lord – but it is also seen in the service of all of our priest chaplains who lovingly accompany and care for our sisters and brothers, and their families, as they answer the call and give of themselves in the cause of freedom and a just peace.  Please join me today in asking God’s blessing upon all of nation’s fallen service members, our disabled veterans and all who have served in the past, all our active duty military personnel and their families, and the priest chaplains who minister to them.