Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Chivalry of Father Kapaun

Just as surely as I predicted Drew Brees' astronomical success this season, I predict that the following story will be the keeper of Advent 2009.

At sunrise on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1951, Father Emil Kapaun startled POWs by donning his purple priest’s stole and openly carrying a Catholic prayer missal, borrowed from Ralph Nardella.

He had talked atheist guards into letting him hold an Easter service, a favor they soon regretted.

No one there would ever forget this day. The most moving sight the POWs ever saw.

At sunrise, 80 officers — bearded, dirty and covered with lice — followed Kapaun up a little rise, to the cold steps of a bombed-out church. They gathered in a circle around him. Kapaun held a crude crucifix made from broken sticks. He looked thin and filthy; except for the black eye patch, he looked to Walt Mayo like one of the ragged apostles.

Kapaun began speaking, and his voice caught; he said he didn’t have the equipment to give them a proper Mass. But then he held up his ciborium, the tiny gold container that before his capture had held communion hosts he had placed on tongues of soldiers.

He opened Nardella’s prayer missal, and as he began to recite from it, the Christians among them realized what a risk he was now taking. He was beginning not from the Easter promise of rebirth but from the dark brutality of Good Friday.

As the guards glared, Kapaun read the Stations of the Cross, describing Christ’s condemnation, torture and death. Captives who had been mocked and tormented and beaten listened as Kapaun spoke of Christ being mocked and tormented and beaten.

Tears flowed.

Kapaun held up a rosary. He asked the non-Catholics to let the Catholics indulge for a bit; they knelt as he said the rosary, recited the glorious mysteries of Christ rising, ascending, defying death for all time.

A voice rose in song. A POW, Bill Whiteside, had a beautiful voice, and he raised it now to sing the Lord’s Prayer, a recital that gave goosebumps to Sidney Esensten, the Jewish doctor.

Kapaun spoke. His theme: forgiveness.

And he said he did not feel qualified to advise them about life because, “I am not any better than you are.”

Then they all sang as Kapaun had taught them: loud so that the enlisted men could hear. Starving men sang at sunrise, the same song Whiteside had sung, the Lord’s Prayer, a song they laced with reverence..Read all …

If in the dark days of an Advent filled with news like "hope and change" mandatory funding of abortuarial murder (read: "health care reform") that makes America resemble ancient Carthage, or the Scimitar threatening lands once part of Christendom (again), remember this:

Father Kapaun was only human. What he did was perform his priestly duties faithfully. Our Lord and his Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist empowered the prisoners of war. He will continue to do so for us, prisoners in an unholy age.

God bless our faithful, wise, and loving priests. And God bless us as we gain sacramental grace and strength to be witnesses, joyful, jovial, chivalrous sons and daughters of the Most High. God bless you this Advent!

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