Chaplain’s Corner: Heroism Revisited

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

One of the most revered contemporary Spiritual Fathers of the Eastern Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (1924-1994), gives an insight that can be applied to a tragic event that is fresh in the minds of many around world today. The Elder counseled us to have well-disposed thinking toward those around us. He told his spiritual disciples to see the "good things" around them and not focus on the evil people do.

In the spirit of the counsel of Elder Paisios I want to focus on the report of the good done by one of the Chaplains on board the severely damaged cruise-liner that went aground and partially sank off the coast of Italian Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy in January 2012. The horror of the plight of those passengers who were trapped was well documented by the media in text and video. As the ship was sinking the Chaplain radioed his headquarters, the Apostleship of the Sea, whose function in part is “to promote the spiritual, moral and social development" to those at sea, that it was his intention to "stay close to the crew and the passengers to comfort them at this moment of great confusion." The Chaplain also shared his thoughts at the very beginning of the disaster "There were so many children, I took a little girl in my arms. I asked that she be sent first with her mother and her evacuation took precedence." [http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/chaplain-costa-concordia-crew-showed-personal-sacrifice/]

This brave Chaplain's action brings to mind the actions of another heroic figure in a tragic plane crash three years ago in the Hudson River. Writing then about that incident, I stressed the importance of cognitive-behavioral preparation, that is to say "thinking and ordering your own thinking and then practicing and regulating your behavior (or work)." [http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/double-your-worry-double-your-problem]. Such preparation was certainly demonstrated by by Captain 'Sully' Sullenberger's heroic and steadfast action. The hero Chaplain of the cruise ship likewise demonstrated his spiritual preparation to deal with this unexpected disaster. In his case, it called for making a moral decision to care for others at the risk of his own life. For him, the ship sinking was not only a physical disaster but a moral crisis as well. In addition he insistently defended the heroic work of the crew in the face of their vilification in the press.

There is a rich spiritual history for being spiritually prepared. We can think of the Exodus chronicle and Moses’ preparedness to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt: "And a mixed multitude without number went up also with them, sheep and herds and beasts of divers kinds, exceeding many. And they baked the meal, which a little before they had brought out of Egypt, in dough: and they made earth cakes unleavened: for it could not be leavened, the Egyptians pressing them to depart." (Ex 12: 38-39) I am especially reminded of Christ's Parable of the wise - the prepared - bridesmaids who when the bridegroom came ". . . were ready, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last come also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour." (Mt 25: 10-13) The words of St. Paul to St Timothy (2Ti 2:15) echo this: "Give diligence to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed. . . ."

The important lesson for us is that not only should we place our focus on the good that is being done around us, but also make sure we are spiritually prepared for the untoward events that may occur in our lives. And that when we face some inauspicious happening we can follow Elder Paisios' advice by seeing how we can transform even these into good. As the Psalmist (118: 71) tells us: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes."

Date posted: March 1, 2012