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May 30th, 2011

Memorial Day Story

Memorial Day

Each year my video production company is hired to go to Washington, D.C. with the eighth grade class from Clinton, Wisconsin where I grew up, to videotape their trip. I greatly enjoy visiting our nation’s capitol, and each year I take some special memories back with me. This fall’s trip was especially memorable.

On the last night of our trip, we stopped at the Iwo Jima memorial. This memorial is the largest bronze statue in the world and depicts one of the most famous photographs in history — that of the six brave men raising the American flag at the top of Mount Surabachi on the Island of Iwo Jima, Japan during WW II. Over one hundred students and chaperones piled off the buses and headed towards the memorial. I noticed a solitary figure at the base of the statue, and as I got closer he asked, “What’s your name and where are you guys from?

I told him that my name was Michael Powers and that we were from Clinton, Wisconsin.

“Hey, I’m a Cheesehead, too! Come gather around Cheeseheads, and I will tell you a story.”

James Bradley just happened to be in Washington, D.C. to speak at the memorial the following day. He was there that night to say good-night to his dad, who had previously passed away, but whose image is part of the statue. He was just about to leave when he saw the buses pull up. I videotaped him as he spoke to us, and received his permission to share what he said from my videotape. It is one thing to tour the incredible monuments filled with history in Washington, D.C. but it is quite another to get the kind of insight we received that night. When all had gathered around he reverently began to speak. Here are his words from that night:

“My name is James Bradley and I’m from Antigo, Wisconsin. My dad is on that statue, and I just wrote a book called Flags of Our Fathers which is #5 on the New York Times Best Seller list right now. It is the story of the six boys you see behind me. Six boys raised the flag. The first guy putting the pole in the ground is Harlon Block. Harlon was an all-state football player. He enlisted in the Marine Corps with all the senior members of his football team. They were off to play another type of game, a game called “War.” But it didn’t turn out to be a game. Harlon, at the age of twenty-one, died with his intestines in his hands. I don’t say that to gross you out; I say that because there are generals who stand in front of this statue and talk about the glory of war. You guys need to know that most of the boys in Iwo Jima were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years old.

(He pointed to the statue)

You see this next guy? That’s Rene Gagnon from New Hampshire. If you took Rene’s helmet off at the moment this photo was taken, and looked in the webbing of that helmet, you would find a photograph. A photograph of his girlfriend. Rene put that in there for protection, because he was scared. He was eighteen years old. Boys won the battle of Iwo Jima. Boys. Not old men.

The next guy here, the third guy in this tableau, was Sergeant Mike Strank. Mike is my hero. He was the hero of all these guys. They called him the “old man” because he was so old. He was already twenty-four. When Mike would motivate his boys in training camp, he didn’t say, “Let’s go kill the enemy” or “Let’s die for our country.” He knew he was talking to little boys. Instead he would say, “You do what I say, and I’ll get you home to your mothers.”

The last guy on this side of the statue is Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona. Ira Hayes walked off Iwo Jima. He went into the White House with my dad. President Truman told him, “You’re a hero.” He told reporters, “How can I feel like a hero when 250 of my buddies hit the island with me and only twenty-seven of us walked off alive?”

So you take your class at school. 250 of you spending a year together having fun, doing everything together. Then all 250 of you hit the beach, but only twenty-seven of your classmates walk off alive. That was Ira Hayes. He had images of horror in his mind. Ira Hayes died dead drunk, face down at the age of thirty-two, ten years after this picture was taken.

The next guy, going around the statue, is Franklin Sousley from Hilltop, Kentucky, a fun-lovin’ hillbilly boy. His best friend, who is now 70, told me, “Yeah, you know, we took two cows up on the porch of the Hilltop General Store. Then we strung wire across the stairs so the cows couldn’t get down. Then we fed them Epson salts. Those cows crapped all night.”

Yes, he was a fun-lovin’ hillbilly boy. Franklin died on Iwo Jima at the age of nineteen. When the telegram came to tell his mother that he was dead, it went to the Hilltop General Store. A barefoot boy ran that telegram up to his mother’s farm. The neighbors could hear her scream all night and into the morning. The neighbors lived a quarter of a mile away.

The next guy, as we continue to go around the statue, is my dad, John Bradley from Antigo, Wisconsin, where I was raised. My dad lived until 1994, but he would never give interviews. When Walter Cronkite’s producers, or the New York Times would call, we were trained as little kids to say, “No, I’m sorry sir, my dad’s not here. He is in Canada fishing. No, there is no phone there, sir. No, we don’t know when he is coming back.”

My dad never fished or even went to Canada. Usually he was sitting right there at the table eating his Campbell’s soup, but we had to tell the press that he was out fishing. He didn’t want to talk to the press. You see, my dad didn’t see himself as a hero. Everyone thinks these guys are heroes, ’cause they are in a photo and a monument. My dad knew better. He was a medic. John Bradley from Wisconsin was a caregiver. In Iwo Jima he probably held over 200 boys as they died, and when boys died in Iwo Jima, they writhed and screamed in pain.

When I was a little boy, my third grade teacher told me that my dad was a hero. When I went home and told my dad that, he looked at me and said, “I want you always to remember that the heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who did not come back. DID NOT come back.”

So that’s the story about six nice young boys. Three died on Iwo Jima, and three came back as national heroes. Overall, 7000 boys died on Iwo Jima in the worst battle in the history of the Marine Corps. My voice is giving out, so I will end here. Thank you for your time.”

Suddenly the monument wasn’t just a big old piece of metal with a flag sticking out of the top. It came to life before our eyes with the heartfelt words of a son who did indeed have a father who was a hero. Maybe not a hero in his own eyes, but a hero nonetheless.

Copyright © 2000 by Michael T. Powers

May 15th, 2011

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

The annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations is an appropriate occasion for highlighting the importance of vocations in the life and mission of the Church, as well as for intensifying our prayer that they may increase in number and quality.

Pope Paul VI instituted the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (the 4th Sunday of Easter) on the 11th April 1964 by saying – “O Jesus, divine Shepherd of the spirit, you have called the Apostles in order to make them fishermen of men, you still attract to you burning spirits and generous young people, in order to render them your followers and ministers to us” – (Pope Paul VI launching the 1st Word Day of Prayer for Vocations)

General Intercessions for Vocation Awareness

1. That men and women may find joy in sacrificing personal gain for the service of others in a Church vocation, we pray to the LORD.

2. That the LORD of the Harvest may open the hearts of our young people to the possibility of a life in priesthood or religious life, we pray to the LORD.

3. That parents, by their lives and example, may encourage Church vocations among their children, we pray to the LORD.

4. For all men and women who wish to follow Christ, that they may respond generously to God’s graces, trusting His leading them into His service as priests or religious, we pray to the LORD.

5. For Christian families, the source of religious vocations, that they may be prompted to encourage young people to rejoice in doing God’s will, we pray to the LORD.

6. That today’s youth may show generosity to Jesus’ call and make wise decisions in choosing their vocation in life, we pray to the LORD.

7. For all young men of our parish who are making lifetime choices at this time, that they will include service to the People of God as a diocesan priest among their other options, we pray to the LORD.

8. For all parents of our parish, that they may instill a positive regard for the priesthood as a wholesome lifetime career path their sons might consider, we pray to the LORD.

9. For our young people, that they may find a joyful faith in their families, and encouragement to respond to a life of ministry and service, we pray to the LORD.

10. For a full appreciation of the gift of ministry within the Church, and for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, we pray to the LORD.

11. For all candidates for priesthood in our diocese, that they may have the courage of their convictions and the generosity to act upon them if they believe in their hearts that God is calling them to priesthood, we pray to the LORD.

12. For all pastors and parish priests of our diocese, that they will recognize and invite to priesthood men of their parishes who have the aptitude for priestly service, we pray to the LORD.

13. For all priests, deacons, religious men and women, and all lay ministers who serve our Church and for those who are struggling to answer the call they are experiencing at this time, we pray to the LORD.

14. For all involved in the examination of candidates to priesthood at this time, that their choices will benefit the whole Church of the 21st Century, we pray to the LORD.

15. For all parishioners who have made a commitment to pray intensely for vocations, that their intercessory prayer for an increase of candidates for priesthood in our diocese will be fruitful for the Church and they will be blessed for their efforts, we pray to the LORD.

16. For the Parish Vocations Commission of our diocese, that they will grown in appreciation of the task entrusted to them, and that the seeds of awareness they plant will grow to maturity through prayer and care, we pray to the LORD.

17. That Lent 2012 will be a time of grace and renewal for all Christians throughout the world, and that there will be a renewal of interest in the vocations of Church service, we pray to the LORD.

18. For all the priests and religious who are guiding the Catholic people of our parishes in this 21st Century, we pray to the LORD.

19. That our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will be blessed as he leads Catholics to lift up the world to God in prayer, we pray to the LORD.

20. That the new Millennium will be a time of renewal for the Church and that many people will follow their individual call from God to assist in the work of evangelization, we pray to the LORD.

21. In thanksgiving to God for the blessings of the 20th Century, asking a powerful outpouring of His Spirit on the new Millennium, we pray to the LORD.

22. For all the priests, religious and lay people who will serve the Church, the People of God, in the 21st Century, we pray to the LORD.

November 1st, 2010

All Saints Day – FAQ

All Saints Day

The Feast of All Saints is a holy day of the Church honoring all saints, known and unknown. While we have information about many saints, and we honor them on specific days, there are many unknown or unsung saints, who may have been forgotten, or never been specifically honored. On All Saints Day, we celebrate these saints of the Lord, and ask for their prayers and intercessions.

The whole concept of All Saints Day is tied in with the concept of the Communion of Saints. This is the belief that all of God’s people, on heaven, earth, and in the state of purification (called Purgatory), are connected in a communion. In other words, the saints of God are just as alive as you and I, and are constantly interceding on our behalf. Remember, our connection with the saints in heaven is one grounded in a tight-knit communion.

The saints are not divine, nor omnipresent or omniscient. However, because of our common communion with and through Jesus Christ, our prayers are joined with the heavenly community of Christians.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) testifies to this belief: “We mention those who have fallen asleep: first the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition” (Catechetical Lecture 23:9)

The Catholic Catechism concisely describes this communion among believers, by which we are connected to Christ, and thus to one another:

“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us…So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” (CCC 956)

“…as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself: We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples.” (CCC 957)

There are thousands of canonized saints, that is those individuals officially recognized by the Church as holy men and women worthy of imitation. Because miracles have been associated with these people, and their lives have been fully examined and found holy by the Church, we can be assured they are prime examples of holiness, and powerful intercessors before God on our behalf. There are also many patron saints, guardians or protectors of different areas and states of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Isn’t Celebrating All Saints Day Idolatry?

Many non-Catholics, especially those from more fundamentalist backgrounds, assume that celebrating the saints means somehow worshiping them. This leads some Christians to claim that All Saints Day is an idolatrous holiday. The Church, East and West, has always distinguished between worship (latria), given to God alone, and veneration (dulia), which may be given to the saints. The highest form of veneration (hyperdulia) is due to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

If someone is treating a saint as one should treat God, then yes, that is idolatry. That being said, Catholics believe that the saints have a role in our lives, as intercessors on our behalf, because we are all united by our communion in Christ. The saints are continually praying for us and interceding on our behalf, on account of their closeness to Christ. This is because God is the God of the living, not of the dead. As such, asking a saint for intercession is no more idolatrous than asking a holy friend or pastor to pray for you.

Remembering and honoring the saints are beneficial practices, because to remember the heroes of the faith and follow their examples are good things. Many Christians seem to strongly oppose remembering and celebrating the lives of great Christian men and women, yet have no problem celebrating the lives of secular heroes like George Washington. All Saints Day is kind of like a Christian Memorial Day or Presidents Day, a day to celebrate the lives of all the great heroes of the Christian faith, and to celebrate the deep communion we have with them. While celebrating secular heroes is admirable, how much more admirable is celebrating those who fully dedicated their lives to Christ!

2. Don’t Catholics pray to Saints?

Yes, Catholics do pray to saints, on All Saints Day, and throughout the year. However, we must remember what the word “pray” means. It simply means to make a request. If you examine common prayers to the saints, these prayers ask the saints to pray for us, and entreat them, by their examples and prayers, to lead us closer to Christ. Thus prayers (requests) to the Trinity, and prayers (requests) to the saints are very different in content and style, and should not be confused.

Praying to (making a request of) a saint is like making a request of your pastor. When you need it, you probably ask your pastor to pray for you because you know he is a deep and prayerful man, and you would like his prayers. All Christians recognize that God hears the prayers of his people, and we find comfort in the prayers of those who are close to Christ. This is why we pray to the saints.

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