Fr. Kapaun’s Golgatha is our understanding. Over the past couple of days I’ve had the privilege of being reminded of Fr. Kapaun’s life and one story in particular. The story of one American soldier who had been wounded by a grenade. He was lying in a ditch when a Korean soldiers came to him and pointed a gun directly at his head. Fr. Kapaun, being accustomed to simply ignoring danger like dragging soldiers off the battle field, even in the midst of bullets flying around his head, saw this particular soldier. Boldy he went over to his fellow soldier and swiped away that Korean soldiers gun as if he wasn’t even a threat. He reached down to the wounded soldier and hoisted him onto his own shoulder and proceeded for over 40 miles to the death camp which was Fr. Kapaun’s Golgatha.
This had happened at the battle where Fr. Kapaun’s battalion was captured. Fr. Kapaun could have left the battlefield earlier to avoid capture. But he chose to remain on that field to be with the men he was called to serve. At the death camp where they were taken he turned his priestly ministry into a service of hope. Helping men to hope even against hope. He spoke against communist propaganda, he encouraged the soldiers in the midst of their suffering, he got the soldiers to care for one another rather than look out for themselves, and he would go from hut, to hut, to hut dressing their wounds and washing clothes. He would preach the word of God and offer simple friendship. And when some soldiers would get to the point of despair they would chose to leave the lice on their bodies. In the conditions of a death camp, in the harshest winter recorded in Korea, lice cause death. Leaving lice on one’s body was a way to give up. But Fr. Kapaun would go over to the soldier and remove the lice for them, again encouraging them to hope even beyond hope. Many soldiers survived because of Fr. Kapaun in that Golgatha experience; even the soldier whom he picked up from the ditch and carried for 40 miles. It was there that Fr. Kapaun offered his life, being persecuted, becoming sick, and dying as he forgave his captures and even asked forgiveness from them.
Fr. Kapaun’s Golgatha is our understanding. We see in Fr. Kapaun’s life an imitation of Jesus own sacrifice. As Fr. Kapaun swiped away the weapon that was pointed at the soldier’s head in the ditch, Jesus swiped away the weapon the devil turned against us, that is, death. Death kept us locked in fear. As Kapaun hoisted that soldier on his shoulder and carried him 40 miles to the death camp, so too Jesus hoisted the cross on his shoulders to carry our sins to Golgatha so that we might be set free from hopelessness and despair. There Jesus himself tended to our own weaknesses and forgave our sins. Death will come to us all one day. And all of us like men in that death camp must face our own illnesses. Life can be burdensome. Life can be weary. But Jesus comes to us in our own camp to give us support as Kapaun support the soldiers his own camp. When despair is high, Christ’s light is brightest. We too must withstand the false messages of this world and learn to support one another in our need rather than looking out for our own needs. Like Fr. Kapaun Jesus could have avoided our battlefield but he too chose to come to us in our own life. He came to give us hope that there is a promise of life awaiting us and to give us the courage to persevere to the end. And he himself, having died on our behalf, forgiving his own captors who put him to death, did not let death be the final word. By dying he destroyed our death, by rising he restored out life. And by destroying Satan’s strongest weapon he restored the hope of eternal life to come. We see in Fr. Kapaun an example, the example that Jesus Christ’s victory over hopelessness and despair is true. Fr. Kapaun’s Golgatha is our understanding.