Four months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle was given an extraordinary mission.
The mission, known as the Doolittle Raid, was carried out on April 18, 1942. It was the first air raid by the United States intended to strike the Japanese home islands. In his autobiography, Doolittle recounted:
The Japanese people had been told they were invulnerable. An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders. There was a second, and equally important, psychological reason for this attack … Americans badly needed a morale boost.
From the onset, the mission was a difficult one. The strategy was to launch 16 B-25 bombers off the Navy aircraft carrier, Hornet, with the intention of bombing five Japanese cities, including Tokyo. The problem? At the time, no one believed it was possible that a heavily equipped bomber could be launched from the short deck of a Navy carrier.
And the rest is history. By mid-day, each of the B-25s had successfully launched and arrived at their intended targets. Having released their payloads and with little fuel remaining, 15 of the bombers headed for China, while 1 departed for Russia. For those crewmen headed to China, two died swimming to shore; one was killed on the bailout; and four men were seriously injured while attempting to ditch their aircraft. Additionally, of the eight men captured by the Japanese, three were executed by a firing squad and one died of starvation. The remaining four survived the ensuing years of the war but suffered torture, starvation, and solitary confinement. The crew in the aircraft bound for Russia landed safely and ultimately escaped into Iran.
For the execution of their extraordinary mission, each of the “Raiders” received the distinguished Flying Cross. In addition, Doolittle was promoted to Brigadier General (bypassing the rank of Colonel) and received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Now for most of us, the thought that we would be involved in an extraordinary mission seems farfetched. After all, extraordinary things are usually reserved for heroes, saints, or one James Doolittle. And besides, who has time for such aspirations, especially when we are embroiled in the most ordinary circumstances of life: raising families, holding down jobs, and participating in what might be described as the “daily grind.”
But what if you and I could point to one moment in our lives and say: That was the moment an extraordinary mission was given us. Well, that moment occurred on the day of our baptism.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 1213), “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism, we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission…”
Extraordinary, don’t you think?
In an essay published on the American Catholic website, author Timothy J. Cronin presents us with a checklist of questions for living out our baptismal mission:
Do we turn the other cheek? Do we pray for our enemies? Are we willing to forgive over and over again? When something is demanded of us, do we offer even more than what was originally expected? Are we fair and just? Are we willing to die and rise over and over again? Are we a source of peace and hope for those who know us? Are we willing to ask for forgiveness and try harder—again and again?
Now if you don’t think living out that reality is extraordinary, then what is?
By the way, my extraordinary mission began on November 25, 1962. How about yours?