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”)