July 2nd 1863 as Father William Corby stood with the men of the Irish Brigade awaiting the order to advance, he asked Colonel Kelly’s permission to address the men. With the Colonel’s leave he took from his pocket a purple stole, placing it around his neck. Climbing onto a large boulder to be clearly seen he viewed the men before him who would momentarily engage the rebels to their front with many loosing their life. There was no time to hear confessions this day, so he informed the Brigade he would pronounce a general absolution of sins for those who were sincerely contrite. He reminded them of the noble cause for which they fought.
Beginning to recite the Latin words of absolution he raised his right hand over the columns, and every man fell to his knees, though all around them raged the battle. To their left was Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, to the right, the Peach Orchard, but for a moment the part of the field they knelt on seemed to be still. Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Second Corps, to which the Irish Brigade was attached was clearly moved by this scene, removed his hat and bowed his head.
Thirty-four years later at the age of 64, Father William Corby died from the complications of pneumonia, December 28, 1897, and at ten o’clock on the morning of the last day of the year, the hearse carried his body to its final resting place in the community cemetery on the shores of St. Mary’s Lake. But, in a fitting departure from custom, the casket was not carried by priests. Aging Civil War veterans from the local Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) were under his remains. His coffin wrapped in the flag of his old regiment was lowered into the grave while rifle volleys split the crisp December air. The last call of the bugle was trumpeted, and the veterans present sang the words: “Answering to the call of the roll on high, dropping from the ranks as they make reply, filling up the army of the by and by.”
When you visit the hallowed field at Gettysburg and you drive past the statue of Father William Corby, pause long enough to hear the muffled din of battle while that faithful chaplain prays over the men of the Irish Brigade, and remember the awesome price that was paid by Americans to preserve our cherished freedoms, which allow us, above all peoples on the earth, the most lavish benefits. And may the inspiration of that moment cause you to take from that field a renewed commitment to the holy cause of winning the lost in the battle for men’s souls.
Lord, anoint my words with forgiveness that whomever I meet will find in my speech hope that will turn their lives toward your love and in that moment seek and discover redemption that will bring eternal life to them.
Leaders initiate and seize opportunities to change the destiny of those bound for destruction often by the mere use of forgiving speech.