As I often say to people who ask why I became a Navy Chaplain: "I came by it honestly". I was literally born into it. My father was a career line officer in the Navy; commanding ships and bases. I was born at a naval hospital in Portsmouth, VA and traveled as a Navy dependant to all my fathers' duty stations until I went to college. Growing up in a Navy family made the Navy an obvious choice to serve as a priest. As well, it was an obvious choice for my older brother. He was born at the United States Naval Academy Hospital and served as a career submarine officer. My father commissioned my brother and when my time came, my brother commissioned me. Truly, I came by it "honestly".
In eighth grade, I began to consider God's call in my life. It was Christmas day at a large family gathering in Chicago, my father's hometown, that I heard in my soul these words; "Dan you are to be a priest." In the eight years I attended college and major seminary and now my 14 years in His serves the call has remained strong and clear.
While my life as a Reserve Navy chaplain has taken me to all parts of the world and the United States by far the past year has been the most unique. I was ordained for and served in the Diocese of Arlington for the last 13 years. In those years, balancing my reserve commitments and my pastoral assignments has been a challenge and a joy. I have been an associate pastor of a large suburban Northern Virginia parish, a chaplain and vice principal of a Catholic high school, and the pastor of a very diverse multicultural parish. It was from this parish that I was called to active duty in the Spring of 2005. I will always remember the call. The official word came during Holy Week- I would be deployed to Afghanistan.
The ministry of a priest on deployment is what I would call "back to the basics." With few priest to cover nearly 20,000 troops, in over 40 forward operating bases, spread throughout an area about the size of the State of Texas, I am always on the go. In my years of service in Afghanistan, I have completed over 160 missions to almost all 40 bases, offering well over 360 Masses to more than 7,000 personnel. For Easter, I offered 9 Masses in 48 hours at 8 different bases. I travel by helicopter and ground convoy to reach even the most remote parts of the country. The other priests assigned to Afghanistan share this same pace of travel and ministry, and I am honored to serve with such dedicated and willing brother priests. When I arrive at a base, I offer the "basics" - the Sacraments- the Eucharist and Confession. I try to spend more than a few hours with the troops but often due to transportation it is off to the next base. The troops (Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy) are always very grateful that a priest would "come out" to see them on the front. Some have even noted that I was the first priest they ever met in uniform. It is a privilege to bring the gift of the Sacraments to these hungry souls.
One of the abiding influences of my life as a priest and most especially as a chpalin has been the heroic ministry of Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno. I first heard the accounts of Fr. Capodanno's life while beginning my Navy career at the chaplain school in Newport, RI. I was inspired by his life and his selfless death for his Marines on the field of battle. I was so taken with this extraordinary story that I choose to write my Master's thesis in Church History on his life. Since finishing my paper in 1992, God has continued to sue the name of His servant not only to inspire my ministry but also to influence countless souls in the military and civilian life. It has been a real grace over the last 17 years to hear how this Navy chaplain has continued to bless by intercession and example so many souls.
There are many joys and challenges to the life of any priest and chaplain, however by reflecting on the selfless service of Fr. Capodanno, it is easier for me to bear the burdens that can come, especially the hardship of deployment. I have also encouraged the troops I work with to remember the heroes that have gone before us, heroes like Fr. Capodanno and the Saints of the Church to give them comfort when it becomes hard to be away from family and friends, performing a job that demands long and thankless hours, in an environment that is anything but safe and friendly. When we look to another to help us carry our cross it does make it easier and lighter.
I am truly blessed to be called to the life of a priest and at present the ministry of a military chaplain.---------------------------------------------Father Daniel Mode is a priest of the diocese of Arlington in Virginia, the author of The Grunt Padre: The Life and Sacrifice of Fr. Vincent Capodanno; and an active duty Catholic chaplain in the United States Navy Chaplain Corps.
Democracy is not a root but a branch. The root is religion which alone gives value to each person as a creature of God. But atheism is the root of anti-Americanism. That is why subversive activities are always anti-religious.
--Fulton J. Sheen
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