Do you know what a 'ninny' is? I'm not sure myself. But I get the idea that if you called a red-blooded American boy a "ninny" in a schoolyard in the 1930s you could end up with a bloody nose.
World War II was not a war for ninnies. After the landings in Normandy, the enemy was on the run. After years of brutal conflict, victory seemed inevitable. But like wounded animals, the Nazi war machine was capable of striking back and they did. There was a counterattack. The Americans were surrounded at Bastogne, Belgium, with no way to escape. Surrender seemed to be the only option. When the German commander sent a surrender demand to General Anthony MacAuliffe in the town, MacAuliffe famously responded with a single word: "Nuts.”
General George Patton's Third Army, successful in outflanking and defeating the enemy with its tanks, seemed to be out of striking range. Upon hearing of MacAuliffe's reply, however, General Patton told his division commanders to renew their relief effort, saying that a man that eloquent must be saved. Still there seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. Aside from the distance, the winter of 1944 had set in. The weather was bad and the Third Army was bogged down in snow. General Patton didn't seem to have a prayer.
But Patton was not only a fierce warrior; he was a man of prayer. At first, Patton called the chief chaplain of the Third Army, a Protestant minister. Patton ordered him to compose a prayer for good weather and victory. The chaplain was troubled by the order, so Patton called a Catholic priest, one of the assistant chaplains. His name was Father Thomas O'Neil and he was from Chicago. This chaplain had no scruple about praying for victory over one's enemies. So Father O'Neil composed the prayer, it was printed on cards and distributed to all of the members of the Third Army on Christmas Eve, 1944.
By Christmas, the storm clouds unexpectedly dissipated, clearing the way for the Third Army's rescue of the American troops at the Battle of Bulge. The soldiers of the Third Army proved themselves to be men of courage and resolve. The Nazis were defeated in battle and in a few short months the war in Europe would be over. And Father O'Neil received the first medal from Battle of the Bulge. He was promoted by General Patton to chief chaplain of the Third Army.
Early in 1945, Father O'Neil continued his pastoral letters to the troops. He used words of faith and courage in his instructions: "Because of your belief in the Resurrection, show no fear in the face of the enemy. And remember, we don't want any ninnies."
Patton called him in to review the draft order. He said that he, Father O'Neil, left out a word. The revised order was issued with Patton's edit, according to his, well, colorful habit of speaking. "We don't want any ninnies" was changed to the more eloquent, "We don't want any damned ninnies."
The task of living our faith and evangelization today is also not a task for ninnies. There are new obstacles, and new challenges. In many ways we stand alone. We seem to be surrounded and defeat seems imminent. In moments of weakness we may be tempted to deny our respective vocations: to consider divorce; to consider defecting from the priesthood and religious life; to give up on our faith; to surrender to a culture that appears to be insurmountably evil.
St. Luke the Evangelist describes how Christ approached his mission: “When the days for Jesus' being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem….” No complaints. The pagan gods of antiquity vanquished their enemies with impunity. In one of the most comical scenes in the Gospel, perhaps that’s why James and John came up with this ingenius question: "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Even today we’re not accustomed to ascribing the human virtue of “courage” to God. So upon reflection it may quite shocking to notice in the resolute determination of Christ on his way to Golgotha, that our God was courageous.
We need to enter into and continue the battle for the salvation of souls with courage and resolve. There is no other way. There is only the way of the Cross.
Several years ago, I celebrated a funeral Mass in Detroit. During the luncheon after Mass, I spoke with one of the relatives, a man in his early 80s. By and by, I learned that he had been a soldier in Patton's Third Army. Reaching into his wallet, he pulled out a tattered prayer card, one of the original cards distributed to the troops on Christmas Eve in 1944. He sent me a copy. It has a certain timeless value:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.
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Posted by: TheJournalist64 -
Jul. 08, 2016 1:53 PM ET USA
I have worked with Fr. Jerry and have always found him to be a man with infectious courage and tenacity. God bless him and his work.
Posted by: chady -
Jul. 07, 2016 9:14 AM ET USA
'Courage,the victory is mine; I have overcome the world' John 16:33
Posted by: wcbeckman51 -
Jul. 06, 2016 2:08 PM ET USA
Sadly, a great many Catholics, including some clergy, do not acknowledge the severity of the challenges we face. The "battle for the salvation of souls" has been diminished by the "bad weather" of bourgeois comfort and cultural malaise in the midst of which we tend to pat ourselves on the back and defend the status quo. We're in need of a Great Awakening.