I think I am something of a rara avis among women. I like war stories. I like hearing about people’s experiences in the military. Not to say that I don’t shudder and shrink at the brutality, the inhumanity, the pain and death and trauma. But I like being amazed and humbled by the realization that people have been willing to put themselves in the way of those things for the sake of country and countrymen, to stand between those horrors and the rest of us. Sometimes I hear people dismiss or disparage soldiers because war is such a tragedy, such a shame, such a burden. They don’t consider that if it weren’t for soldiers, then all of us would be more directly impacted and imperiled by war, and we would all be forced to fend for ourselves. War is never a thing to love or desire or be proud of. But the soldiers and other people who suffer and endure and even sometimes overcome in extraordinary ways… these are people to be respected and admired and grateful for. They are heroes, every one.
I know this probably sounds like a post for Veterans Day or Memorial Day. But these thoughts shouldn’t be reserved for just certain days. I think them often. They inspire me. They motivate me. They instruct me. They drive me. They help me to remember that life is precious and a very dear price to pay. They also encourage me in the spiritual life, the spiritual war, the Good Fight as St. Paul called it.
This is a war that we are all in the midst of–some are officers, some are foot-soldiers, some are pilots, some are special forces, some are spies, some are medics, and some keep the fires of home and camp burning. We too can be heroes. Even if all we can do is stand our ground and declare where our loyalty lies–in this fallen world and even more fallen society, those things alone can be radical and heroic. And like all soldiers, we put ourselves between the enemy and those who cannot or will not defend themselves. We usually do it without any recognition or thanks–nor do we mind such things; we sometimes do it to the derision of those we long to protect. This is what life is like in the Church Militant, the Church on her long march Heavenward.
I sometimes fear that the Church and Christianity (never mind the rest of our society) have become too soft, too self-indulgent, too complacent, too undisciplined, too indolent–and God knows I’ve been my share of it all, much to my shame and regret. We all have chinks in our armor, after all, and the enemy is very subtle and slithery and knows just how to get though to us. But I fear that too many of us have forgotten altogether where we are and what we’re meant to do. We’ve forgotten our duty. We’ve gotten so fixated upon false, watered-down notions of peace and love and tolerance and niceness and upon feeling good at all costs without the least concern for being good. We count our own opinions, emotions, and preferences as far more important than doctrine, reason, and obedience. We give more loyalty to moral relativism than to the natural law inscribed upon every human heart.
We’ve seen the results of this. We’ve seen the Church splinter from within. We’ve seen unspeakable tragedy and scandal shake her down to her very foundation. THE enemy and those who serve him point and say, “You see? I knew you Christians and your Church were rotten to the core. You hypocrites! You oppressors! You can’t even save yourselves much less than the whole world. Give it up! Cast off the shackles. Forget about your so-called sins and your so-called virtues. Be nice to everybody and otherwise just do whatever feels good. Go with the flow and get a life!” They say this as if the Church herself and all of her loyal adherents were the source of all the misery and humiliation. In fact, it is because some people within the Church have persistently and remorselessly done exactly what the enemy would have us do!
What serves the enemy most is serving ourselves. Loyal service, on the other hand, demands that we lay ourselves down, set ourselves aside, and when necessary let ourselves be nailed to the cross! Generosity is at the heart of all loyal service, be it in an earthly military or the Church. Generosity steels our courage and discipline. Generosity ignites faithfulness, obedience, and charity. Generosity enables us to be selfless.
And so, one of the most helpful spiritual practices I’ve found recently (via my confessor, who always seems to know me better than most anybody, even though he never sees my face) is this Prayer of Generosity, traditionally attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who knew a thing or two about service and obedience:
Lord God, I want to love You, not that I might gain eternal Heaven nor escape eternal Hell, but simply because You are my God. Teach me to be generous. Grant me to give to You and not count the cost; to fight for You and not mind the wounds; to toil and not to look for rest; to labor and to ask no reward, except the knowledge that I serve my Lord and my God. Amen.
Such simple words to pray. And such difficult words to live by! But pray, and it will be given, often beyond our wildest expectations. I have found this simple prayer to be very powerful. Transformative, really. Exactly what I needed to call forth the heroine in me and keep me from straying from my duty, which is to serve God and my fellow man, and to reach Heaven, my true Patria. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I just want to say that I am honored to be part of the Church Militant. I am honored that God and Church would entrust such service and duty to me. And I pray I never completely let them down. I pray I can stand firm until the Good Fight is finished.