On Thursday we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem. The baby was offered by Mary and Joseph, presented to God our Father. They were told by Simeon how this baby was destined the light of the nations, for “the rising and falling of many”. Ever since, his followers have heroic offerings of themselves for the good of others. Here is an inspiring example from just after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943, when an act of extraordinary unselfishness by a group of men became a legend of martyrdom and sacrifice.

When the US Army ship Dorchester was torpedoed by the Germans just south of Greenland that night, its passengers and crew had 25 minutes to get off the boat. As 902 people went for the life jackets, it quickly was discovered there weren’t near enough. Of the 13 lifeboats, only two functioned.

In the ship’s final minutes, Methodist senior chaplain George Lansing Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Dutch Reformed minister Clark V. Poling and Fr John P. Washington, a Catholic priest, were helping passengers leave the vessel. Then four men appeared, all of them without life jackets. The chaplains quickly gave up their own vests – and went down with the ship, perishing in the freezing water. Survivors saw them, locked arm in arm, praying and singing the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” just before the ship sank beneath the waves.

It was a night as dramatic as the sinking of the Titanic – but without a blockbuster movie to record the drama. “The Four Immortal Chaplains,” as they became known, have been honoured many times, including on a stamp issued in their honour by the U.S. Postal Service. The first Sunday in February is known ” in some Christian denominations as “Four Chaplains Sunday.

These four presented and offered themselves completely for the wellbeing of others as Jesus was presented to God his Heavenly Father in the Temple of Jerusalem for the salvation of the world.

Fr Matthew