‘Stay calm, Marine. God is with us all this day’

“Stay calm, Marine. God is with us all this day.” These were the last words heard from the lips of Servant of God Fr. Vincent Capodanno, words he had repeated throughout that day, Sept. 4, 1967. Seriously wounded, he was nevertheless, for the umpteenth time, placing himself directly in danger of death to comfort and administer last rites to a wounded corpsman on a Vietnam battlefield. As Fr. Capodanno prayed, he was shot 27 times in the back.

Father’s words contain three profound truths, “Marine,” “God is with us all,” and “this day.” In deliberately calling each man to whom he ministered “Marine,” Father recalled to him his purpose, the reason he lay there on that battlefield. In the midst of his fear, his pain, and perhaps his imminent death, that man was a Marine. He had been trained for this moment. He had chosen this calling, a noble one. This is Father’s first lesson: in times of shock, grief and trial, we must remember who we are and why we are here. We are beloved children of the Father. We exist to know, love, and serve Him on earth and share His glory forever in heaven. This will anchor us.

How moving that Fr. Capodanno would next say, “God is with us all.” God’s promise to “be with us” echoes countless times throughout the Old Testament; God expresses again and again His desire to dwell with His people, to lead them to rest in the Promised Land. This desire is fulfilled ultimately in Jesus Christ, who assures us, “I am with you always” (Matt 28:20). One of our Sisters, who particularly loves this verse, reminded me recently of the corresponding question we should ask ourselves: God is with me. Am I with Him? Sister drew this question from St. Augustine’s meditation upon his sinful youth. Speaking to God, Augustine laments, “You were with me, but I was not with you.” This is Fr. Capodanno’s second lesson: God is always with us, so we must be mindful of His presence, speak to Him interiorly throughout the day, thank Him for His love, ask His pardon for our sins.

Finally, “this day.” It takes great faith to acknowledge God’s presence in the concrete circumstances of this particular day. Fr. Capodanno said “this day” on a day of carnage, a day of agony, a day of death. With the eyes of faith, we can see that any day, any moment, can be a moment of glory for us if we unite it to Christ. Commenting upon Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made,” the Fathers of Church said that “this day” means Christ Himself, Christ whom the Father has made victorious through His rising like the sun on Easter morning. When we unite our sufferings to Christ’s, He draws very near to us and will work the miracle of the Resurrection in us, too. “Stay calm, Marine. God is with you this day.”

Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.