Mgr Richard Madders, Principal Roman Catholic Naval Chaplain delivered the following homily yesterday in St Paul's Cathedral, at the the Battle of Trafalgar Commemoration Mass celebrated by the Bishop of the Forces Mgr Tom Burns with the serving and retired Chaplains. We gather a few feet from the tomb of Lord Nelson whose victory at Trafalgar in 1805 the nation commemorated last Sunday in the Cathedral above us. Both Her Majesty the Queen and the First Sea Lord in their speeches in HMS VICTORY last Friday alluded to the special place of Lord Nelson in our national history. Michael Portillo, in his speech to us in the Lower Gun Deck went further. No other Service, he said, venerates a military leader in quite the same way as the Royal Navy does Admiral Lord Nelson. His life and those who fought with him are indeed an immortal memory in the psyche of our Service. May I suggest therefore then that when we look at his tomb today we look symbolically on the essence of the naval world and its ethos that we entered when we were commissioned as chaplains in the Royal Navy. Look the other way - towards the altar in this British Empire chapel. Remember the great commission we received at our ordinations. The Gospel reading today echoes it powerfully: "Love one another. I chose you and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last". Commissioned at the altar and commissioned in the Royal Navy - Naval Catholic Chaplaincy past and present is a continuing story of men willing to undertake literally the words often sung at their priestly ordination: "Alleluia. Go into the whole world and make disciples of all men. Alleluia." We surely ponder these words, possibly with a wry smile, when thrown around in a storm in some far off corner of the world. We ponder them on some dubious foreign port 'run ashore' in the company of 'Jolly Jack'. Many a time, clutching a tinny in some Senior Rates Mess we surely have thought to ourselves: "how on earth did I end up here?" But what a wonderful life! What an exciting vocation we have been given - sent by Christ and our Church into the maritime world of the navy friend and advisor to all on board. The 'Bish.' What then has characterised Catholic Chaplaincy through the generations. Ronnie has many dits to tell! One I have remembered. I think it was a Second Sea Lord (many years ago) who told him as PRCC that 'the thing about you Catholic Chaplains is that you love your people'. This, I think, remains as true today as it always did. We have understood Nelson's navy and have learned the strange ways of sailors and marines. We journey with our people in training, ashore, in the field and at sea. In the bad times we are there. The first reading speaks of trusting in God. In tense moments you and I know that it is to the Chaplain to whom people turn when they are frightened and afraid. Because we are commissioned by the Queen we are there. Because we are commissioned by Christ at the altar we can say in his name to our people: "Do not be afraid, I am with you" - a theme echoed in the responsorial Psalm. What a privilege this is for us as priests. We have much to be thankful for today. Sir Isaac Newton once wrote: "I sit on the shoulders of giants". It is right then that part of our gratitude today must be for those who have served before us giants in faith and service - an example to us who serve today. This morning then let us ask the Lord to continue the good work he has begun in us. Let us also ask our Church to back us - to give us the priests to continue our mission. Finally, recognising past and present ministry it is appropriate in this place and during this October 2005 to make our own Nelson's prayer before Trafalgar: May the great good God whom I worship, grant to my country, and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory; and may no misconduct in anyone tarnish it; and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature of the British Fleet. For myself individually, I commit my life to him that made me, and may his blessing alight on my endeavours for serving my country faithfully. To him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.
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