Remembering the Battle of Gettysburg

On July 6, I celebrated Mass at Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Gettysburg to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the horrific battle. I would like to share a copy of my homily with you.


AMDG                              6.VII.13                           JMJ           Gettysburg

A blessed Fourth of July Weekend!

I am confident that you share with me a deep sense of honor, awe, reverence, patriotism, and gratitude as we worship the God of the Nations on a battlefield our country rightly calls a shrine . . . which, of course, makes you and me pilgrims as we journey to a sanctuary to learn of the divine, the beyond, the sense of providential purpose that has made Americans both confident and humble.

Isaiah the prophet spoke of Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, in this Sabbath’s first reading from God’s Holy Word, as we contemplate other hills called Seminary Ridge, Little Round Top, and Cemetery Ridge, this 150th anniversary of the battle that, as Shelby Foote has observed, changed the term “the United States” from the plural to the singular.

St. Paul’s reference, in his letter to the Galatians, our second reading, mentions the cross of Christ, and His holy wounds, concepts readily clear as we close our eyes and reverently recall the tens of thousands of men killed and wounded on these acres-ever-cardinal red in our national memory.

That’s really what our pilgrimage is all about:  memory.

The memory of men nailed by either musket balls, bayonets, or explosives, whose blue or gray were insignificant to a God who cries at every war as He watches His children destined to love only hurt and harm.  “Both read the same Bible.  Both prayed to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other;”

The memory of Catholic sisters who turned St. Francis Xavier Parish into an 1863 “Mash-unit” “binding up the nation’s wounds” on both sides;

The memory of Father Corby absolving his men of sins as they ran towards near certain fall;

The memory of men who would write their moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and sweethearts, and use so glibly such vocabulary as “valor,” “honor,” “duty,” “sacrifice,” “loyalty,” “God,” and “country;”The memory of a president aptly named “Abraham” who would christen this cemetery with phrases such as “a new nation, conceived in liberty,” “all men are created equal,” “this nation, under God.”

Every person, every people, needs both memories and dreams.  This battlefield stirs-up both, as we assemble in obedience to the command Jesus gave us the very eve before He endured His Gettysburg — Gethsemane and Golgotha — “Do this in memory of me!”

“Sloped on the hill the mounds were green,

Our centre held that place of graves,

And some still hold it in their swoon,

And over these a glory waves,

The warrior-monument, crashed in fight,

Shall soar transfigured in loftier light,

A meaning ampler bear;

Soldier and priest with hymn and prayer

Have laid the stone, and every bone

Shall rest in honor there.”

 (Herman Melville, “Gettysburg”)


5 Responses to “Remembering the Battle of Gettysburg”

  1. DottyDay says:

    God’s punishment….President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, just weeks before the end of the Civil War. The Civil War lasted four years at a deadly cost more than 600,000 lives. In his speech, Lincoln portrayed the war as Gods punishment for the sin of human slavery.

    As our nation collapses today spiritually, morally, economically, and culturally, are we perhaps experiencing God’s punishment once more — this time for the sin of abortion and the 54 million lives lost? Where is our Lincoln?

  2. TtT Engine says:

    Cardinal Dolan, In all due respect to you and the mega-importance of Gettysburg and the U.S. Civil War, July 4th, Independance Day, is the birthday of the U.S.A. not a commemoration of the Civil War. I believe George Washington was divinely inspired by our Creator and is a saint in heaven. The God Miracle he lead against tyranical Great Britain lead to the Declaration of Independance, the U.S. Constitution and the birth of our God given unalienable rights. Comparing Pres. Lincoln and Gettysburg to Gethsemane teaters on irreverent. No human endeavor compares to Christ’s Life, Crucifixtion and Resurrection. Jesus Christ was the God-Man. We are mere mortals. Christi Fidelis !

  3. Rolando Rodriguez, OFS says:

    “Both read the same Bible. Both prayed to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other;” And both disregarded the 5th Commandment.
    Rather than stirring up memories and dreams, this and all battlefields should stir us up to follow the command Jesus gave us in the Garden of Gethsemane: Stop, no more of this!
    Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.

  4. J Carr says:

    Thank you. As a soldier I have always felt a very personal connection to soldiers that have died in battle. Father Corby and the Sisters of Saint Fracis Xavier Church should be awarded our country’s highest honors. How typical of nuns and priests. To be fearless and heroic in the face of raw human carnaticum. For the good of the Roman Catholic Church in America, there should be a movement to remind all Americans of the role these heroic men and women of the cloth played in this battle. It brings tears to my eyes to imagine them soaked in blood, with their only weapons being their crucifixes and faith. The bullets coming out of those old guns were slow and large. The damage these slugs did as they tore through frail human flesh is similar to what we see in IEDs today. imagen thousands of IEDs raining down on men in a battle field. What Father Corby and the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier experienced is beyond anything that any poem or speech can properly descrve. How easy it seems to forget the history of RC Church. Empty pews in grand centuries old Church buildings seem to reflect this. As Pope Benedict said, to ignore the RC Church in the history of humanity is to refuse the truth of a great heritage and deny history itself. We should all blame ourselves for allowing our children to grow up without appreciating this great heritage and to wander this world like lost sheep.

  5. John Benner says:

    Interesting the C. Dolan closed his homily with a Herman Melville poem, nothing wrong with that at all, but after making reference to scripture? Taking the words of Jesus out of context, or maybe to him it wasn’t, about ‘Do this in memory of Me.’ Gettysburg is a grim reminder how frail our lives are. It is not a punishment from God, it is a cycle that started with Cain and Abel.