As a chaplain with the RAAF I recently found myself in Afghanistan on a short-term deployment. Upon arrival I discovered this to be a rugged and harsh land, very grey and dusty. During my time there I looked for moments of God's presence, moments of grace. There is a book by Gerard Hughes called "God of Surprises" and I was certainly surprised at where I discovered God in this land.

In this Year of Grace I would like to share the following moments of grace.

1. Our chapel I was to discover was to be a sacred place of quiet and prayer. I was struck by the number of times I saw some of our men and women having a quiet moment of prayer. These times of prayer meant there often candles lit for various unknown intentions.

2. It was a Sunday morning and I had just finished the morning Mass when my pager went off. The message was very clear: Report to Role 2 (medical) immediately. Upon my arrival I was to discover that 10 of our US Army brothers had been on patrol in the local town where they encountered a suicide bomber. Two were killed instantly and eight were injured. The scene before me was something you can never be prepared for. The other chaplain and I prayed with the two who had been killed and provided pastoral care to the injured, medical staff and those others who offered support.

The question going through my mind was how do I make sense of this? Where is God? Where is hope?

That moment of hope, of grace came later that night. At about 8pm a large number of Australian and American soldiers gathered to farewell the two fallen soldiers. Standing before them and offering a prayer of consolation I still could not make sense of the day that had unfolded. But as the choppers flew out some sense of the day was found, this was my experience. Darkness had set the mountains that surrounded us where like a rugged silhouette in the background. In the darkness of that day and the night I was struck by a single bright star that shone high up in the night sky. To me that light spoke of hope in the darkness, hope when all seems to be engulfed by the tragedy of the day's events.

In the coming week I had the privilege of leading the memorial service on base for the two fallen soldiers. In my reflection I shared my experience and afterwards I was struck by how many others had seen the light, but made no connection with hope, with God. In the sharing of the story, others too were able to see that there is always hope in the midst of darkness, we simply have the eyes to see.

In this Year of Grace I believe we are called to share our moments of grace. In doing so, we help others discover God's presence in their lives, moments of grace. Our story, our experience could be what another needs hear; let us endeavor to share those stories, those moments of grace over the next twelve months.

Chaplain John Healy
RAAF Base Tindal NT



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