Skip to comments.In Awe Before the Lord (By Archbishop O' Brien of the Military Archdiocese)
Posted on 04/13/2003 4:31:04 PM PDT by Pyro7480
(PAUL HENRY WOOD (AMERICAN, 1871-92), ABSOLUTION UNDER FIRE, 1891 OIL ON CANVAS, 72 X 102 IN. UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME COLLECTION OF THE SNITE MUSEUM OF ART, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME, AA.76.57)
Editors Note: The following address was given at the first Knights of Columbus Eucharistic Congress in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2002.
In the beautiful rolling hills of western Maryland lies the historic battlefield of Antietam. There on Sept. 17, 1862 (the Glorious 17th) was fought the bloodiest battle of any American war. More than 20,000 soldiers from both sides of the Civil War lay dead or wounded. The battle was finally won for the North by the heroic exploits of the Irish Brigade, known as the Fighting 69th. Several years ago I was invited to celebrate Mass on that sacred field sacred because so many thousands of young men are buried there, where they fell. The occasion was the dedication of a Celtic cross to honor the gallantry of the brigade.
The day before the dedication, thanks to a graduate student at The Catholic University of America, I happened upon a letter buried in the National Archives for 135 years.
It was written from the Irish Brigade in Harpers Ferry, Va., on Oct. 9, 1862, by Lt. Bernard ONeill, commanding officer of Pvt. Thomas Connors. It is addressed to the privates father on Mulberry Street in what is now lower Manhattan.
I have just received your letter of the 6th instant. Your Brave and gallant Son Thomas was buried among the other Brave men of the 69th who fell in the Battle.
All last winter his comrades in Company C were edified by his regular attendance at Mass every Morning, and also by his so often approaching the Most Holy Sacrament. He was also at Confession on the Morning of Battle. So you must not mourn his fate as I trust he now Stands in the presence of God interceding for his Old Comrades of the Irish Brigade who were not so fortunate as he was, to be called by the Almighty when he had everything prepared for the great and inevitable journey.
I believe Capt. Whitty saw him fall, and as the Captain is now in New York, he will be able to let you know all about Thomas, and I am sure will assist you.
I, myself, assisted in carrying him from the place where he fell to the grave. I also assisted in burying him. The Scapulars, Beads, and Agnus Dei which were round his neck were buried with him, and the three letters which I enclose herewith were given to me by one of his Comrades named George Decker who found them on his person.
If there is anything more you wish to know about him, I will give you the information with pleasure, and if you intend exhuming the Body, I will describe to you minutely the place where he is buried. But it would be difficult to find him after the lapse of so long a time, to identify him from his comrades. And besides, what better grave could a Brave Soldier have than on the field where he fell and where he contributed to gain the Victory.
It touched me deeply that the Mass I celebrated at Antietam was the first time that letter was publicly read since Mr. Connors had last read it to the proud family and friends of young Thomas. Indeed, it proved to be deeply moving to the several hundred listeners on that cold and windswept battlefield several years ago.
A EUCHARISTIC PEOPLE
If there is one thing that identifies Catholics the world over, and has done so since the founding of the faith, it is the central importance in their lives of the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament and confession. And if there was one thing that surely comforted Mr. Connors upon receiving that beautiful letter it would be that his son had gone to God strengthened by the sacraments.
If our proverbial average Catholics really knew and believed the age-old teaching on the sacraments, the Eucharist and penance, why are they not swelling our congregations daily, as young Thomas Connors took joy in doing in the midst of war?
A return to a sense of sacramental awe might also have reference to some of us clergy. In my 37 years of priesthood only a regular diet of prayer, mental prayer, has enabled me to retain my sense of the holy, to approach the altar conscious of that burning presence of the all holy one. To say, This is my Body, this is my Blood; to say, I absolve you, must always be a startling experience. And to hear those words is no less startling on the part of us believers.
A GREAT MYSTERY
But what should be the basis of such awe? The Church has for 20 centuries struggled to fathom the implications of Christs sacramental words, his Real Presence. We are told that the Eucharist contains the whole mystery of salvation, is the source and summit of the Christian life, and unites us with the heavenly liturgy in anticipation of eternal life.
Since the Eucharist is the very person of Jesus, the other sacraments are related to this supreme sacrament. Imagine the awe when Jesus followers heard the words, Your sins are forgiven. How shaken in their sinful humanity must those disciples have been when he passed through the locked doors that first Easter eve and shared this power of forgiveness with his Church: Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive shall be forgiven. Whose sins you retain shall be retained (Jn 20:23).
Venial sins may be forgiven through pious reception of the Eucharist. But in view of the serious nature of mortal sin, Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance. Mortal sin breaks off our relationship with God and our neighbors. To renew the grace of God in our souls, we are asked to go to a priest and confess. We receive Gods forgiveness and are reconciled with our fellow believers in the Church.
The power and love flowing from this sacrament of forgiveness should inspire us not only to avoid sin, but to work for the good of others. The same is true of the power and love we receive in the Eucharist.
WHO IS THE LORD?
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. How many times have we heard those words at the conclusion of Mass?
But who is the Lord? It is the Lord of two dozen youths in Jacksonville, Fla., who wrote 125 letters to the priests and deacons in their area thanking them for their gift of ordination and assuring them of their prayers in the midst of our national scandal. The teenagers, from a Presbyterian church, said they were motivated by 1 Corinthians 12:26, which says that when one part of the body of Christ suffers, the whole body suffers.
Unless we are determined to serve those whom the Lord calls his little ones, he will have no part in us. We have no right to call upon his name, though we call ourselves Christians.
We are one body in Christ, and the one member who sins becomes an infection sapping the bodys strength. Through the sacrament of penance Christ has resolved that the Church, his body, should play a role in the healing and reinstatement of the offender.
Penance simply but dramatically reflects the Churchs core identity: our interdependent, graced unity with and in the body of Christ. He is the head, we are the members. The same is true of the Mass.
Every altar is a table designed by God to unify his people in his Son, in a graced intimacy that far transcends the unity of a family sharing the same roof and table. Earthly food becomes part of our flesh and blood. But the Eucharist absorbs us into the body and blood of Christ. Every eucharistic celebration makes us more thoroughly his Church, more manifestly his body. We become more responsible and empowered to bring the good news to the poor, to heal the sick, to free the prisoners in our day, as Christ did in his.
KNIGHTS OF THE LORD
I know of no organization in the Church that takes the command Go in peace to love and serve the Lord more to heart than the Knights of Columbus. Wherever the body of Christ is most embattled and endangered the Knights are there, ready, willing and able in these stressful days to heal and become one in solidarity with our priests. And when the most innocent of human lives are threatened, as they are by the thousands every day, you are on the front lines of the March for Life and first in support of your local pregnancy life center. If I may add, gratefully, you support us in our efforts to bring Christ to our men and women in uniform, and their families, serving around the world. You help us from the grassroots councils right on up to the Supreme Council, and we are so very thankful.
May that same eucharistic Lord who gave Pvt. Thomas Connors the willingness and strength to lay down his life for us enable you to do the same in a new century, as you fight a different but no less urgent war. A war for hearts and minds and lives virtually oblivious to the dynamic, grace-filled workings of God in their lives.
Archbishop Edwin F. OBrien is head of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA, and a member of Father Nicholas J. Habets Council 4632 in Virginia Beach, Va. He is editor of Blessings from the Battlefield, stories of Catholic military chaplains (Our Sunday Visitor).
Venial sins may be forgiven through pious reception of the Eucharist. But in view of the serious nature of mortal sin, Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance.
So few people go to Confession now, I'm wondering if that is because we have lost the nature of sin. Most Catholics these days probably could not identify mortal sin and thus the need for Confession.
He's the kind of shepherd who stands for absolute Truth and not the "dialoguing question mark" that far too many of our shepherds embody.
The only thing that I wish Bishop O'Brien would allow is an indult of the Traditional Latin Mass.
What a beautiful and moving tribute! Thank you for posting this.
2nd Degree Member
Knights of Columbus Council #3394
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