Light One Candle

Skip Navigation Links
Light One Candle
LOC Archive
For Editors


The Path of a Holy Priest

On September 4, 1967, U.S. Military Chaplain Father Vincent R. Capodanno moved among the wounded and dying of the 5th Marine Corps on a Vietnam battlefield. He was seriously injured himself, but when he spotted a wounded corpsman pinned down by an enemy machine gunner, Father Capodanno rushed to the corpsman’s side to provide medical aid and spiritual support. And there, performing one last act as a priest, he was shot and killed. In the nearly two years he spent as a Marine chaplain, he was devoted to the soldiers he served – living, eating and sleeping in the same conditions as they did; spending countless hours offering spiritual counsel; and doing all he could to boost morale. A good and faithful servant, he was the picture of Christ in our midst.

In his book, The Priest and a World Vision, Father James Keller, M.M., founder of The Christophers, wrote: “Christ’s chosen method of reaching the world is through the apostle, be he priest or layman. According to His plan He will not go to mankind without us. He insists on going through us.” To be a priest is to dedicate one’s life through service and sacrifice to bring Christ into the world and to guide others to fulfill this calling in ways that best suit their talents. 

The call to serve led Father Capodanno to a war zone halfway around the world, where he shared in all the hope and sorrow, joy and pain of Marines on the front lines. His story is a visceral one of courage on the battlefield, and it is a model for the kind of courage needed to follow Christ wherever our talents lead. The ordinary parish priest may never win a medal of honor, an award that was posthumously bestowed upon Father Capodanno, but he must emulate this holy priest’s courage in every aspect of his life.

Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, exemplifies the Christ-like courage needed to minister to a flock of fallen brothers and sisters on their journey toward God. Known as the Cure of Ars, this humble priest helped a small parish return to a life of faith in the aftermath of the French Revolution. In a 2016 talk on the Cure of Ars and Mercy, Father Patrice Chocholski, rector of the Shrine of the Cure of Ars in France, explained that the charism that led Saint John Vianney to be a great confessor evolved through his life experiences. 

Vianney was overwhelmed by the healing power of mercy because he understood the damage that guilt could do to the human soul. He fled conscription in Napoleon’s army, and, while he was away, his brother was forced to take his place in the army and subsequently died on the battlefield. Vianney’s mother died of a broken heart, and his father blamed him for the tragedy that beset the family. He sought mercy and discovered how to utilize his pain to help others. Father Chocholski says, “In his wounds pilgrims came to draw mercy.” Vianney took on burdens for those in search of mercy, giving out light penances and supplementing those with his own offerings to God.

The lives of Father Capodanno and Saint John Vianney show the Church in the light that Pope Francis sees it, as a “field hospital after a battle.” This is the Church at its best, as a loving mother with holy priests who put their lives on the line to open the doors wide for people to come inside and be healed by the power of God’s mercy. 


For a free copy of the Christopher News Note APPLYING THE BIBLE TO YOUR LIFE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: