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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.

Related Posts:

Love and war

Allergy fog post: In which I commiserate with Elisabeth Leseur, ramble a bit about duty, and toss in a strangely relevant anime quotation

 

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I see it was only a little over a year ago when I last wrote on this topic.  Well, I’m in a similar situation once again.  At a point last week, weakness led me to a state of mortal sin.

At this point in my life, it is always a shocking and painful experience when I realize my bond with God has been severed over some foolish, selfish indulgence of a temptation.  It is utterly humiliating to wake up in the Enemy’s bedchamber and know that I went there of my own free will, abandoning the secure castle of my Lord and Father for some promise of luxury and pleasure–a false promise my mind should have easily seen through, and my love and faithfulness should have easily demolished.  It is an almost unbearable pain to find the dagger of betrayal in my own bloody hand.

But before long, the aftermath of mortal sin brings one to a stark moment of decision: continue to wallow in your own filth, compounded with self-pity and self-hatred, and thus surrender in despair to the Enemy… or rise to your feet to return to your Lord and Father and beg His forgiveness.  At this point, we all become the Prodigal Son in Christ’s parable, and if there is any shred of conscience, intellect, and love left, we know there’s only one correct choice.

We cry to God and place ourselves at His mercy.  We acknowledge how wrong we were and how much we depend on Him for health, sanity, happiness, security, and wholeness.  If nothing else, we do it because we realize how much better we are in His castle than in the Enemy’s infernal palace.  If nothing else, we do it out of base fear of the Enemy.  That is not the best and noblest of motivations, but it suffices for our merciful and compassionate Lord to gather us back into His arms and the safe confines of His castle.

We rightly rejoice in His goodness and love and praise Him. One of the Psalms in this morning’s Divine Office captures the entire experience–both the pleading and the praising–very well:

Psalm 86
The prayer of the poor man in distress
Blessed be God who comforts us in all our trials
(2 Corinthians 1:3, 4).

Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am faithful;
save the servant who trusts in you.

You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord,
for I cry to you all the day long.
Give joy to your servant, O Lord,
for to you I lift up my soul.

O Lord, you are good and forgiving,
full of love to all who call.
Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer
and attend to the sound of my voice.

In the day of distress I will call
and surely you will reply.
Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord;
nor work to compare with yours.

All the nations shall come to adore you
and glorify your name, O Lord:
for you are great and do marvelous deeds,
you who alone are God.

Show me, Lord, your way
so that I may walk in your truth.
Guide my heart to fear your name.

I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart
and glorify your name for ever;
for your love to me has been great:
you have saved me from the depths of the grave.

The proud have risen against me;
ruthless men seek my life;
to you they pay no heed.

But you, God of mercy and compassion,
slow to anger, O Lord,
abounding in love and truth,
turn and take pity on me.

O give your strength to your servant
and save your handmaid’s son.
Show me the sign of your favor
that my foes may see to their shame
that you console me and give me your help.

I have confessed my sin to God and implored His forgiveness, and I believe I have received His forgiveness and had our broken bond mended. That is where I am now.  But as Catholic, I find that my heart still yearns for something.  It longs to make a more formal, mature, and responsible pledge of fealty to its Lord.  It longs to actively re-dedicate itself to Him and His service.  And because it is still human flesh, it also desires a more concrete and more certain expression of God’s healing and restoration.

To quench these yearnings, only one thing will do: namely, the Sacrament of Confession.  To confess my sins in my own human voice to one of God’s ordained priests, and to hear in the priest’s human voice that my sins are absolved–these are necessary for my well-being, as I have found time and time again.  I cannot over-emphasize how salutary this holy Sacrament is!

Moreover, it is a duty and a privilege to which I am bound as a member of the Church.  It must be understood that for Catholics, there is no division, no dichotomy, between God and His Church.  He is the Church’s Head, and the Church is His Body.  Only a gruesome decapitation could cause such a division.  In being bound to the Church, I am bound to God, and vice versa.  In doing my duty to the Church, I do my duty to God, and vice versa.  If the Church requires me to confess to a priest, I do not doubt for a moment that it is because God desires it.

To me, it is absolutely clear why He would desire it–as I said, I have experienced over and over how very good and necessary it is for me.  But God is more than a physician who hands me a prescription.  He is a loving Father who wishes me to possess some of His own freedom and dignity.  Presenting myself to Him in the Sacrament of Confession provides me with that freedom and dignity.  That is why it is not only a duty but also a privilege.  It is a privilege to actively co-operate in re-forging the bond between Him and myself.  It is a privilege to know that God loves me so much and regards me so much as His own child, that He calls me to take action, as well as to be a passive recipient of His grace.

As I always say, it is not an either-or situation, but a both-and situation.  Love can never be one-way or one-sided.  My going to the Sacrament of Confession is a free act of love and obedience to God, just as His granting of mercy is a free act of love and providence to me and to everybody who prays to Him.

I am still in need of going to the Sacrament… like last time, various circumstances have conspired against it.  Hopefully tomorrow evening!  I really, really, really need to receive Holy Communion!  I never realize how much it means to me until I’m in a situation where I cannot receive it.  Please pray for me as I ride out this little interval.

[Apologies in advance for any lack of coherence in this post.  It’s big-time allergy season, and I’ve been rather head-swimmy lately.]

I am still reading Elisabeth Leseur’s diary; the copy I have is My Spirit Rejoices: the Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief, published by Sophia Institute Press in 1996.

Rarely has my soul felt such affinity with another as it does with Mme. Leseur!  Sometimes, in reading her diary, I almost feel like I’m reading my own.  It’s strange, but in reading her self-expressions, I find expression for myself also.  I often feel that she has captured in words things that I wish I could capture in words.

But just as often, however, and perhaps more often, I realize that these words are the words of a far wiser, stronger, more mature soul than my own.  They convict me of my own weakness.  But never in a scolding way… more in an encouraging, exhorting way.  She says to me, “You can overcome just as I have by the grace of God.  You are not as weak as you think.”

Here are some excerpts I came across this morning.  They are from her entries of December 1901 and February and March 1902:

It is a suffering from God, which I offer to Him, that among all the beloved friends surrounding me, I should have no one to whom I might open my heart in saying to him or her, “Look,” and who might understand and help me.

But perhaps to hear one’s ideas and beliefs perpetually criticized, to know them misunderstood, to have prejudice and ignorance against one, is to some extent to suffer persecution for justice’s sake.


A bad spell for more than a month: bodily fatigue, domestic troubles, and, worse than that, a kind of sadness and moral apathy, a lack of the fervor and inner joy that God has sometimes given me so abundantly. And yet not for one moment has my will ceased to belong to Him; duty has cost me dearly, but it has not ceased to be duty.

… Many things to reform: pride, the tendency to delay in getting to work, to let days slip away; to allow myself to be invaded by outward excitements.  And yet I have an immense need of calm and of interior life.  God alone knows what difficulty I sometimes have in overcoming certain physical and moral miseries in order to arrive at that complete possession of myself, at that Christian serenity that nothing can disturb.

I have a great task before me, and nothing human to help me fulfill it.  Perhaps one day I shall have the great joy of seeing my faith, which is my whole life, understood and shared by those and by him whom I love so much.  As it is, all that my soul holds of desires, fervor, and tenderness much remain enclosed within itself and poured out only before God.  Whatever suffering this entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me.  Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.

When I read these passages, I could feel and recognize and understand the sufferings Elisabeth must have been experiencing.  That loneliness and isolation from others, that helplessness to reach them, and that malaise that tends to flood in as a result.  The fact is that such difficulties are part of a Christian’s life.  We are in the world, but not of it.  Many of our loved ones, unfortunately, are perfectly content to be of the world.

Not long ago, I was trying to tell a dear loved one about difficulties I was having in my life, specifically about difficulties I was having in persevering in my faith.  This was somebody who does not share my faith, but to whom I am very close otherwise.  Somebody I deeply trust and can generally talk to about anything.  But when it came to matters of faith, I felt like there was such a brick wall between us!  I needed so badly to share my experiences with another person–but even the closest and dearest could not understand or empathize with me.  It was like a sword through the heart!

Her response, which is only logical for someone who does not understand and share my faith, was simply:  “If it is so difficult, then why don’t you give it up?  Find some other way of living that will make you happy and put you at ease.  Why waste your time and energy on something that doesn’t make you happy and that causes you so much pain?”

At the time I was utterly nonplussed in trying to respond to that.  To explain why I couldn’t simply give up on my faith even if it wasn’t easy to live with at times.

An analogy crossed my mind: that of giving up on a spouse or close relative or dear friend when he or she became difficult to live with–even if the difficulty was fleeting.  But then I realized that in our society, people seem pretty comfortable with doing just that!  Summarily giving up on others when things stop being lovey-dovey and happy-clappy.  Abandoning duty in favor of comfort.  All you have to do is look at the ruined state of marriage and the family to see how such ideas have permeated our society.  And if people are quick to give up on other people, then they are even quicker to give up on God and the faith!

I realized how vastly different were the worldviews of this dear person and myself.  And in the end, all I could do was cry to God.  Cry to Him and at the same time reaffirm my dedication to Him–my duty to Him.

Elisabeth often writes of duty.  Duty to God, and on account of that duty to God, duty to other people and to society as a whole as well.  Perhaps the most pervasive problem with our society is that it has lost all sense of duty.

Coincidentally (if there is such a thing as coincidence), this evening I was unwinding with some food and watching some anime.  I’m in the middle of the series Samurai Champloo.  And at one point, one of the characters utters this line:

When duty goes out of style, the world will be nothing but darkness.

I think it’s a very fitting summary for my above ramblings, and so I will end on that note.  :)

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