Remembrance leads to works of mercy

Candle remembrance


Fr. Frank Wittouck, SCJ, a retired Army chaplain, wrote about what “remembrance” means to him as the United States prepares to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. His reflection appears in the September 9 edition of Dehonian Spirituality, a weekly publication of prayers and reflections based in the Dehonian charism. Fr. Frank writes:
Fr. Frank
Fr. Frank

It is really quite significant that our country sets a specific day apart to recall one of our recent tragedies as a nation.  September 11 is a National Day of Mourning and Remembrance for those who died in the terrorist attacks in 2001 that killed people in New York, Arlington (Pentagon) and Pennsylvania.

Remembering sad events is one way that helps me grow as an SCJ priest.  Sad events have a big impact on my life and I try to recall them in a redemptive manner, not in a morbid, negative manner.  It also challenges me to live out the spiritual work of mercy of comforting the afflicted or sorrowful.

An early example of this for me was my grandmother on my mother’s side.  I was told that she wore black dresses consistently after her husband [my grandfather] died and that she visited his grave every week even though it involved a long streetcar ride in Chicago.  I couldn’t talk to my grandmother about this since she spoke no English and I spoke no Italian, but it did impress me.

As an SCJ priest I have had many graced opportunities to comfort the afflicted or sorrowful—funerals, accidents, and all kinds of losses.  In my Army days as a chaplain, I was part of many memorial services for dead soldiers.  During Desert Storm we had eight soldiers in my Brigade killed.  Being with my fellow soldiers, praying with them, and listening to them was a powerful form of ministry for me.

For the last six or seven years I have been involved in a different environment which allows me to reach out in comfort to the afflicted or sorrowful.  I am speaking of prison ministry to the incarcerated.  There is a lot of affliction and sorrow in prison.  This level of pain is often ignored because there are so many other issues.

I feel so blessed that my offering Mass and hearing confessions is so meaningful to so many inmates.  Just making the effort to show up regularly and go through the tough security procedures means so much to the inmates.  Most importantly, it is relatively easy for me to be a source of comfort to them simply by being friendly and respectful.  A smile, greeting, handshake, a moment of listening means so much and truly does bring comfort to the afflicted and sorrowful inmates.  A truly spiritual work of mercy!

Click here to view this week’s issue of Dehonian Spirituality.