The Look of Hope
All the articles in our Musical Musings pages deal directly with some musical or liturgical topic.
An earlier homily on an important, but non-musical topic, Be Made Clean, was so popular, we decided to publish another one.
This homily was delivered by The Rev. Mr. David Galvin at Saint James Catholic Church in Charles Town, West Virginia, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, Memorial Day weekend 2012.
What does hope look like?
For Catholics, hope has been portrayed from antiquity by an anchor.
Can an anchor really make that much difference?
Three men nearly lost their lives while trying to understand the anchor.
On January 16, 1942, Anthony Pastula, Gene Aldrich, and Harold Dixon were flying a Navy Torpedo plane in the South Pacific.
They were hunting for Japanese subs.
After observing no activity, they tried to return to their aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise.
They miscalculated her position, ran out of fuel, and were forced to make a landing at sea.
Anthony and Gene quickly gathered emergency rations and an emergency rubber boat.
As the plane touched down, the three men moved quickly, passing the rubber raft out onto the wing in order to inflate it.
They were never able to retrieve the emergency rations, as the airplane sank immediately.
After desperately inflating their raft and spending the night at sea in shock and darkness, they assessed their situation.
In addition to their small, 4 x 8 foot raft, they had:
- A police whistle
- A small mirror
- Two pair of pliers
- A pocket knife
- A can of rubber cement
- A small piece of patching material
- A .45 caliber pistol
- Three clips of ammunition
- Two life jackets
- The clothing on their back
- An empty canvas canteen
- A wide open ocean
[The Raft by Robert Trumbull, 1942, Henry Holt & Co, Camden NJ, p.23]
Harold Dixon, the pilot, immediately recognized,
controlling our craft's progress was my first concern, because, while we were entirely without food or water, there was nothing any of us could do about this except wait for the Lord to send us a shower and bring us some food where we could catch it.
I figured the Lord would help those who helped themselves, so I set out immediately to take every bit of advantage that I could of the few materials available to me.
[The Raft, p.31]
Although they had no sails, paddles, or motor the boat moved smartly in whichever direction the wind was blowing.
Recognizing that they wanted to stay on a due southwest course, they manufactured an anchor to keep them immobile when a differing wind would have driven them in the wrong direction.
For four days they drifted and sailed as wind would permit.
Again Harold Dixon noted,
On the fifth day, the lack of water began to bother us seriously.
All that morning we sat and waited for rain.
We knew that if we did not get rain, we would not last long; that death by thirst is one of the most terrible forms of torture.
It was then that Gene suggested we should pray for help.
I had been thinking about that, too, but had been almost ashamed to make the suggestion.
I know that such hesitation was wrong.
We had been brought up in good Christian families, but Gene and I, like so many military families, had drifted away from God.
Tony was a Roman Catholic and more religious than the rest of us.
Now in the midst of our trial and tribulation, we felt the need for God.
So, in the blazing sun, pushed by trade winds, surrounded by sharks and rolling waves, we held the first of what soon became a daily prayer service.
[Life Magazine, April 6, 1942]
This prayer service would be in English, Polish, and Latin; it would include faint recollections of Bible stories and hymnody.
"We soon came to realize that there was a comfort to passing our burden to Someone bigger than us in the empty vastness.
Further, the common devotion drew us together, since it seemed that we no longer depended entirely upon each other." [The Raft, p.82]
"These discomforts which we had to bear without food, water, or sleep, soon began to fry our dispositions, but realizing our predicament and knowing that losing our tempers would be of no possible benefit, we kept forcibly choking back our great irritability with each other.
This at times was an almost heroic feat."
By placing their trust in God, by responding to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the wind and in their thoughts, these three men were able to experience an indisputable mental buoyancy that carrid them through this trial.
As we gather on this Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the incredible Solemnity of Pentecost and the theological truth of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, do we have the courage to acknowledge our situation before God?
We as a nation, as families and individuals, are adrift.
We have lost our way.
If we are to benefit from the 1.3 million lives sacrificed by personnel in our armed services during combat, if we are going to benefit from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit given to us in our Baptism and our Confirmation, then we have to admit that we are adrift.
We have lost our way.
The three men would never have survived or found solace if they had not acknowledged the true precariousness of their situation.
I ask you to join with me in admitting that we have lost our course.
There is so much that we prefer to God.
While we have men and women stationed and fighting in combat throughout the world, we are destroying our families and our nation from within.
Like these sailors, it is time for us to throw an anchor into the water to prevent any further drifting.
This anchor, like the Christian anchor from the second century, has three distinct points that gain hold.
The First Point of the Anchor
This is perhaps the hardest — to admit that at times we are ashamed to be Christians.
It took these three men five days without any food or water to turn to God in prayer, because they were embarrassed and shocked.
That very night, the first night that they had the courage to turn to God in prayer, they received the rain they needed to survive.
Do you boldly proclaim, "I am a Catholic, my family is Christian, our parish is Catholic, our nation was and is a Judeo-Christian nation."?
Every time we dissent from Catholic teaching, every time we support those stripping our nation of religious liberty and freedom, every time we neglect our Lord in prayer, every time we fail to speak out for the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage, we have to recognize that we are ashamed of Jesus Christ.
The Second Point of the Anchor
Have courage to turn to God in prayer.
We can all turn back to him.
The three men were ashamed, embarrassed, and shy about their faith, but they finally turned to God in prayer, and each day thereafter spent an hour together in prayer.
They prayed their petitions, shared the Hope found in Scripture, and sang to God together for an hour every night — not just once a week.
Are you on our knees in your homes, do you go to daily Mass during the week, do you pray the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, do you pray for our troops overseas, do you pray for our government, that it will respond and preserve religious liberty?
Do you pray in public?
Does anyone see you pray?
Do you read the Scriptures every day?
There is a small group in our parish who are bonding together to cover our parish and our nation in prayer 24 hours a day.
They have already committed to one hour a day of prayer.
They know that prayer is powerful and sustaining.
Join them as they stand in the breech and intercede for us.
The Third Point of the Anchor
Cooperate with the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
The wind is still blowing strong, the fire still burning.
For 2000 years the Holy Spirit has been guiding the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Even when clergy members abused their positions, the Holy Spirit guided the teachings of the Church.
Even when political leaders attempted to take over, persecute and silence the Church, the Holy Spirit guided the teachings of the Church.
Even today, when numerous Catholics choose to ignore, deny, dissent and trample on the teachings of the Church, the Holy Spirit continues to guide and preserve the pure, authentic deposit of the faith.
Thirty-four days after Harold Dixon, Anthony Pastula, and Gene Aldrich found themselves in that tiny raft, they miraculously floated over an impenetrable reef and landed on the tiny island of PukaPuka.
They received from the natives food, shelter, clothing, and protection from an incredible typhoon that devasted much of this region the day after they landed.
They had prayed, fasted and worked with God by allowing his breath to push them 750 miles across open sea.
At the end of the 34 days, they had lost even the few items they had in the boat.
They were completely naked and burned by the sun, yet they were alive.
Two weeks after landing on the island, they were rescued by the Navy and returned to active duty.
They once again offered their lives to defend our nation.
This Pentecost can mark a new beginning for our parish.
The Holy Spirit is in our midst to strengthen us.
We must admit that we are adrift and in desperate need of an anchor.
Build the anchor by admitting that we have been ashamed of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Stand up and say, "I am Catholic."
Commit to an hour of prayer every day, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit by living the authentic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; not those of our own choosing, not just the ones we like, but all those that the Holy Spirit inspires in our Church.
This anchor, an ancient sign of our Catholic faith during the early persecutions, will allow us to defend our nation from within.
As our gifts come forward this day, we will include a folded American flag to remind us to pray for all who have died in service to our country and to pray for those who continue to be stationed throughout the world.
We also bring forward this flag to remind each one of us that it is not enough to be one nation — we must be one nation, anchored under God.