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Pilgrimage for the Sea Services Mass celebrated at Mother Seton's shrine

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EMMITSBURG, Md. — Bishop Neal J. Buckon told Massgoers at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Oct. 3 that "what seems impossible in our culture, Jesus makes possible through grace."

"Lifelong fidelity is a grace from God. We have multiple relationships in our life such as lawyer and client, doctor and patient, employer and employee," he said in his homily.

"Only one is traced by Genesis to the hand of God. Only one is marked by lifelong fidelity," he said. "Only one is marked by loyalty to only one individual and that is marriage."

Bishop Buckon, an auxiliary of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, was the main celebrant of the annual Pilgrimage for the Sea Services Mass at the shrine in Emmitsburg.

The day's Gospel reading was from St. Mark in which the Pharisees challenged Jesus with questions about the law of Moses.

"The Pharisees debated the limits of divorce under Jewish law, whether the grounds for divorce should be narrow or broad," Bishop Buckon said. "They try to draw Jesus into that debate. The Lord refuses to enter that debate and reframes it."

"Rather than discussing the grounds of divorce we should be discussing how to preserve marriage as God intended, one man and one woman for life," the bishop said.

The special Mass brings together members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and Public Health Services with family and friends to join in prayer to thank St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for her protection and ask for her continued intercession for the country, the safety of all those at sea and for those who have fallen while serving their country.

Mother Seton is the patroness of the sea services of the United States. She had strong connections to those who spend their lives at sea and those devoted to public health.

Two of her sons, Richard and William, served in the Navy, and her father, Richard Bayley, was a prominent New York City physician in the 18th century and the city's first chief health officer.

The congregation also prayed for more Catholic priests to serve as military chaplains. During World War II, Catholic chaplains in the military numbered in the thousands.

Today, the Navy has only 41 active Catholic priests for its roughly 107,000 Catholic sailors and Marines, which means that one priest serves more than 2,000 men and women.

As he opened his homily, Bishop Buckon noted his own connections to the military — now and before he was ordained a priest in 1995 for the Diocese of Cleveland — and his family members' service.

He was on active duty as an Army officer from 1975 to 1983, when he resigned his commission. He traveled the world, visiting more than 100 countries, then entered the seminary.

As a seminarian, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve as a chaplain candidate and after his ordination entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1996. After a distinguished career as a military chaplain, he retired from the Army Dec. 31, 2010, and was ordained a bishop for the military archdiocese Feb. 22, 2011.

"I may have been what you call a 'landlubber,'" he said, "but I live in a Catholic church on Coronado Island," off the coast of San Diego.

"On one end of the island are aircraft carriers, and on the other end are the Navy Seals. Across the bay is the Third Fleet," he noted, adding that members of his extended family "have proudly served in the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Merchant Marine."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021