I was about eight years old when I first watched a movie about paratroopers jumping into France for the D-Day invasion of June 1944.
I must have watched that movie at least ten to twenty times over the last forty years. Even now I can freeze the frame on the DVD player and show you the exact moment when I knew, in my bones, from my seat at the Richmond Theater in Staten Island, New York, that I wanted to be a paratrooper.
Nearly four decades later, this came to pass. Today I serve in the Army as a priest chaplain and a jumpmaster of paratroopers for our nation's only Arctic Airborne Brigade in the Land of the Midnight Sun, the great state of Alaska.
The Need for a Jumpmaster
A jumpmaster cares for his paratroopers just as a shepherd cares for his flock. A jumpmaster instructs them on the proper way to wear their parachute. A jumpmaster inspects each of his paratroopers for their own safety and for the safety of all jumpers on his aircraft. He leads his paratroopers to the airplane that takes them to the sky. He gives the command they follow to jump out the door. And then their bodies accelerate to a speed of about 150 mph.
The jumpmaster jumps with them.
Once on the ground, the jumpmaster calls the jumpers together to make sure he has all his paratroopers and that they are safe to continue their airborne mission. What better avocation to a priest's vocation than to be a jumpmaster?
From Earth to Heaven
I value my priesthood more than my work and service as a jumpmaster. The rosary, the divine office, and the celebration of the Mass are non-negotiable parts of my day. Sometimes that means prayers by myself, at three o'clock in the morning, before a busy day begins. Sometimes that means I celebrate Mass at the altar of the post chapel for soldiers, airmen, and their families on Sunday morning. Sometimes that means having to offer Mass on a cardboard box, under a tarp set up to keep the soldiers and the Eucharist out of the rain during a mission in the woods of the Chugach Mountains.
To some, I'm just another jumpmaster...and that's fine. I'm happy to serve them. But to others, I'm also their priest, their "Padre," who leads them from earth to heaven and back down to earth again in more ways than one.
Being a soldier, a paratrooper, a jumpmaster, a chaplain — all of these things are a limited-time offer. The priesthood, however, is for ever.
I believe God has called me to be a priest and to be a jumpmaster for now — for a time. I am to be the shepherd and pastor of his flock in this particular way, at this moment. All of my soldiers are certainly not Catholic or even Christian. Yet the Church has sent a priest to love and care for them in the way they need to be cared for as paratroopers
So I am their jumpmaster, and this work of charity puts the Catholic Church in a beautiful, positive light. To some, I'm just another jumpmaster...and that's fine. I'm happy to serve them. But to others, I'm also their priest, their "Padre," who leads them from earth to heaven and back down to earth again in more ways than one.
Father Peter Pomposello. "Jumpmaster Shepherd." Magnificat (Holy Week, 2017).
Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.
Father Peter Pomposello was ordained a priest in 2004. The former pastor of Holy Cross Church in the Bronx, Father Pomposello is the Battalion Chaplain (Captain) of 1-501(ABN), currently serving in Alaska.Copyright © 2017 Magnificat
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