Day 4 – NS Guantanamo Bay: Of a Sunday Mass hymn, tohu wa-bohu, and chess

Getting off this island is turning out to be harder than getting on, and that isn’t easy either. I hope to be here for another set of Sunday Masses, but transportation issues are … fluid.  I think I need to ask you readers to pray for a solution.

Speaking of Sunday Masses, at Communion time of both Masses last Sunday, the little choir led Eternal Father, Strong To Save, which is one of the best of the best.

This hymn is based on Ps 107 (106), a thanksgiving psalm, Confitemini Domino, which recounts in one section God’s might in calming the storm

[21] Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him: and his wonderful works to the children of men. [22] And let them sacrifice the sacrifice of praise: and declare his works with joy. [23] They that go down to the sea in ships, doing business in the great waters: [24] These have seen the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. [25] He said the word, and there arose a storm of wind: and the waves thereof were lifted up. [26] They mount up to the heavens, and they go down to the depths: their soul pined away with evils. [27] They were troubled, and reeled like a drunken man; and all their wisdom was swallowed up. [28] And they cried to the Lord in their affliction: and he brought them out of their distresses. [29] And he turned the storm into a breeze: and its waves were still. [30] And they rejoiced because they were still: and he brought them to the haven which they wished for.

Read this in light of Mark 4, which recounts to

[36] And sending away the multitude, they take him even as he was in the ship: and there were other ships with him. [37] And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that the ship was filled. [38] And he was in the hinder part of the ship, sleeping upon a pillow; and they awake him, and say to him: Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish? [39] And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. [40] And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet? And they feared exceedingly: and they said one to another: Who is this (thinkest thou) that both wind and sea obey him?

Firstly, we see in this miracle of the Lord that He is bringing in a New Creation.  The chaos of the waters echo the primordial tohu wa-bohu of Genesis 1 when the Spirit hovered over the waters and calmed them.  Also, the account in Mark follows the pattern that section of the Psalm 107 (106).

Anyway, I really like that hymn, no matter what it’s based on.

One of the things I have enjoyed the most about my time on various bases and camps is good, stimulating conversation.   I invariably run into well-educated and bright people with wide-ranging interests and, often, advanced degrees.

For example, while leaving the chapel after the weekday, midday Mass (Extraordinary Form) the CDR (and a reader here) with whom I exited the sacristy quoted Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters referring, of course, to the heat:

In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.

He also alerted me to a webpage with the rules of chess, which I used to play with …ferocity.  I don’t need the rules of chess, of course, but these are the rules in Latin, which is a hoot.

Because of the visit to the landing place of Christopher Columbus, he passed this along as well.  I have to share it:

I mentioned the chess game with the connection to Christopher Columbus and the financing of his voyages of discovery. Here is the link to the game Francesco di Castellvi vs. Narcisco Vinyoes:  HERE

Here is the description from the website of the players which gives the connection to King Ferdinand and the voyages:

“Francesc (Franci) di Castellvi was a lord of several towns in the area of Jativa and Valencia, Spain. He was an advisor in the Aragonese court of King Ferdinand. He died in Valencia in 1506. He was one of the co-authors of the ‘scachs d’amor’ (Chess of Love), a Catalan poem that describes the first modern game of chess.”

“Narcis Vinyoles was born between 1442 and 1447. He died in Valencia in 1517. He was a politician and writer and belonged to a family of lawyers. In 1495, King Ferdinand recommended him for the position of ‘Justica Criminal.’ He spoke Catalan, Castillian, Latin, and Italian. He was married to Brianda de Santangel, niece of the banker who backed financially the first expedition of Christoper Columbus. He was a co-author of the Catalan poem ‘Scachs d’amor’ written around 1475.”

Meanwhile, I saw a spiffing naval movie last night… this time about the British Navy in WWII.

In Which We Serve


The Wikipedia entry says of it:

In Which We Serve is a 1942 British patriotic war film directed by Noël Coward and David Lean. It was made during the Second World War with the assistance of the Ministry of Information.

The screenplay by Coward was inspired by the exploits of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was in command of the destroyer HMS Kelly when it was sunk during the Battle of Crete.

Coward composed the film’s music as well as starring in the film as the ship’s captain. The film also starred John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson and Richard Attenborough in his first screen role.


The dialogue is terrific. And… David Lean!  Narrated by Leslie Howard.

I shall have to try that “Bovril with lashings of sherry”.

I would love to see a video on YouTube of the Captain’s prayer at Christmas.

But in its absence, there is this terrific moment…

It’s a melancholy but inspiring movie with a few truly great moments.  It’s quite human and, in 1942, it doesn’t candy coat what the British faced at sea.  Talk about tohu wa-bohu.

The crew sings Eternal Father, Strong To Save.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Katherine says:

    As the daughter of a carrier naval officer, and the wife of a retired naval officer (though a brown-shoe, not a black-shoe) this brought a lump to my throat. I remember a wife pointing out that maybe we were more patriotic than our husbands, even. We were willing to say goodbye with courage, a bunch of little children at our feet, and one, as likely as not, in our arms, not knowing if we would see him again. Sure, he might not come home, but he would have his eternal reward. Then we would be left with our whole lives before us, not utterly alone obviously, but it seemed that way at the moment.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. Spinmamma says:

    Thanks to Katherine, and all the brave men and women of the military who sacrifice so much to defend our Nation. The song was beautiful and touching, and the movie clip brought tears to my eyes–it captured in a short clip the loneliness and pride of military families as well as the terrible sacrifice of so many.

  3. moosix1974 says:

    Is that the very same Lord Louis Mountbatten that the Cambridges named their third child after, I wonder?

  4. Philmont237 says:

    When I was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School, we always sang a verse of “Eternal Father Strong to Save” after communion every Sunday. They had added many great verses for all the armed services and many jobs in the navy like aviation and submarines. They also had a verse for students.
    As an Air Force meteorologist, I about cried when I saw the meteorology/oceanography verse. We weren’t forgotten about!

    O Father, whose eternal love
    Spans ocean floor to skies above, From raging storms to waters still The winds and waves obey thy will. O hear us when we pray to thee
    For those who forecast wind and sea.

  5. Jacob says:

    Have you ever tried correspondence chess, Father? Fancy a game? :)

  6. acardnal says:

    Nice post,Fr. Z.

  7. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr Z:

    I liked the photographs of the base chapel. The last Navy installation I visited was Willow Grove NAS JRB, which closed not long ago. I was 14 when I first attended Mass on a military base (Holloman AFB in Alamogordo), and since many chapels serve several denominations, oftentimes there are panels, ropes, covers, trap doors, etc. in the sanctuary. This method is handy when Catholic Mass is at 0830 and a Protestant service is at 1015.

    I don’t know if civilians are still allowed to attend church on the base. Before 9-11, I would often attend 0900 Catholic Mass at USAFA (Fr. Martin Fitzgerald was there at the time-last I heard he was still serving on active duty and like Fr. Vakoc and Fr. Foley did a tour in Iraq) when I worked in Colorado Springs. I even remember going to Mass there on Sunday, the 9th. Two days later, USAFA was on lockdown.

    [Fr. VAKOC! R.I.P. We were in seminary together. He was a couple years behind me. And do you mean Fr. Frank Foley, from Philly? Now at Academy? Great guy.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    “Eternal Father” (“…for those in peril on the sea…”) is a classic hymn. That’s a powerful scene from “In Which We Serve.” Well said Katherine.

    Thanks for the Columbus and chess history. The Chessgames website is a helpful resource with brilliant games of Alekhine, Morphy, and Kasparov.

  9. rhurd says:

    Hello, Fr. Z. I hope your shoulder continues to get better in the tropical heat.
    I haven’t played chess in about 20 years, but I would move the rook that is in F2 to C2 to block the black bishop and check the black king (unless I have my boxes miss numbered.)
    R Hurd, SJ

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