Holy Week Through the Lens of “Saving Private Ryan”

It can be tough to preach to a community of priests and brothers.  It could be tougher when in the era of physical distancing we were literally spread out all over a chapel that comfortably holds over 100. And even tougher after reading Matthew’s lengthy account of the Passion of Jesus.

But I just heard the most powerful Palm Sunday reflection I can recall. Here is what Father Michael Shea, Associate Director of the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal,  had to say.

The film “Saving Private Ryan” can be seen as a metaphor of Jesus’ saving mission.

It was June the sixth of 1944, when Captain John Miller with 175,000 other soldiers landed on Omaha Beach under heavy enemy fire. Despite the heavy artillery resistance Captain Miller was able to get his platoon out of harm’s way by pushing over a ridge to a safer place.

One or two days after that Captain Miller received an order to locate a soldier, Private Ryan, and give him the order to go home… to go home because three of his brothers were killed in the war within a few months of each other. The War Department thought that sending Private Ryan home was the right and best thing to do in this situation.

However, there was a problem… because of the vastness of the allied invasion, it was next to impossible to know where an individual soldier was in the midst of such an attack. So, Captain Miller was given a squadron of soldiers along with the task of finding Private Ryan and giving him the orders to go home.

Finding Private Ryan under such circumstances was not only difficult but also dangerous. In the midst of looking for him, they engaged in a firefight, took on some sniper bullets, experience some insurrection among their ranks, and had some disagreement over some moral issues.

However, through it all, they eventually found Private Ryan but not before he felt obligated to stay with his Company and prepare for and participate in an inevitable conflict with a contingent from the German Army. They staged…  they battled and in the exchange Captain Miller was killed.

Private Ryan then got to go home and once there he seemed to live a very normal life: he married and raised and supported his family. He knew, however, that one day he would return to France, to Normandy, to the grave of Captain Miller. Private Ryan had something to say to Captain Miller and the best place for him to say in Normandy at Captain Miller’s grave.

When that day came Private Ryan stood silently in front of Captain Miller’s grave. He broke the silence by saying, “I have thought of you every day since the day you were killed on the bridge. And whenever I thought of you, my heart was filled with gratitude.  The question ” was my life worth your dying?” frequently went through my mind. Frankly, I was unable to answer that question – but let me say this – I try to live my life in such a way that will enable me to become the best person that I can possibly be … and my hope is this: that this will be enough for you.

Private Ryan’s words and manner that day clearly suggest that he would continue to strive to become the best person that he could be until the day that God calls him from this life.

My brothers, all of us have been saved by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Our Savior. Fortunately, every year we have the opportunity to celebrate Holy Week. So, every year we have the opportunity to quiet ourselves down in the presence of our Lord and tell him how grateful we are for what he did to save us. Every year we have the opportunity to quiet ourselves down and tell our Lord that as we move into the future, that is to say that as we move we as we move into a post coronavirus world… a world where there will be many changes in the way that people learn, the way that they will work the way that they will communicate with one another and the way the people worship God…. that by the grace of God we will adapt and grow with these changes and deal with them in a most positive and creative way.

And this year we have the opportunity to quiet ourselves down and ask God for the grace to enter this year not as a priest or brother of the Congregation of the Mission, but as a priest or brother of the Vincentian Family… a Family made up of 180 Congregations, associations, societies deeply influenced by the Charism of St. Vincent de Paul… a charism that calls us to know and respond to both the old and the new forms of poverty, a charism that calls us to be agents of systemic change, a charism that callus to change structures that prevent us to work together in a spirit of collaboration.

So pray that sometime during their Holy Week, we go to our favorite meeting place with God… it could be the chapel, a garden or the place of our ministry… and thank Him for all that he did to save us… and that by the grace of God we will strive in our own imperfect way to become the person, the priest, the brother, Vincentian that God wants us to be.


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