On the Military Aspects of Christian Spirituality: A Memorial Day Reflection

On this Memorial Day weekend, when we remember and celebrate the ultimate sacrifices made by the men and women of our Armed Forces, I’d like to briefly reflect on the military aspects of our Christian spiritual journey to God’s Kingdom.  In remembering the myriad of American lives lost this holiday as we live now in general peace and stability, my heart feels much as it does on All Saints Day when the Church remember all those who have spiritually fought by loving and serving until death for the Kingdom of God… …heavy.  In this heart space of grieving the loss of our natural and spiritual soldiers, my simple goal today is to “grieve and mourn in hope and faith,” by highlighting as best as this life-long civilian can, what we as spiritual soldiers, can take and apply spiritually from the military lives of those we remember this weekend.

From the sacrifice of their lives, perhaps the most important point to remember this weekend is that we are in a spiritual war and our daily lives and relationships are the actual battlefield!  Ours is not just a natural war in which our physical lives, land and children can be lost – no, it’s far more than that!  This is a spiritual war in which our individual souls can be lost for all of eternity!  That means there is definitely a Good and a bad side: a holy and an evil side, our God and the evil one… Know also that choosing a side is unavoidable; your life choices and works will ultimately declare and reveal to all which side you chose.

In speaking about an evil one or enemy or adversary, who or what is the enemy and our opposition in this spiritual war?  According to the orthodox Christian spiritual mystical tradition, we have not just one but three adversaries to master in our pilgrimage towards the Kingdom: the world, Satan and ourselves.  Each person is born historically into a specific time and place and within an existing imperfect culture that stamps them with a specific way of thinking and seeing life that can challenge them form ultimately acquiring the gift of salvation: i.e. the selfishness, pride and greed that American capitalism can present as ‘normal and healthy’ to Christians.  Definitely a major challenge to anyone’s spiritual maturation, will be accepting the challenge to investigate, critique and to changes any negative cultural imprintings that they may have uncritically accepted during their formative years. Welcome to just one aspect of mastering ‘the world…’

By faith in revelation, we spiritually acknowledge that there are those in God’s creation that have chosen to militarily align themselves against God’s will and purposes, and that they too have a leader.  Therefore, in our various spiritual missions like family life and at work, we must pray and work so as to not be deceived into working for evil plans or purposes that are veiled as natural or spiritual goods. Be mindful, since God will never use evil methods or means to achieve God’s End, God’s will for us is also to NEVER to kill another, to steal from or lie to another, etc. to achieve a stated good…  Just as we know by faith that our victory in Christ is already won, we also know by faith that not all will be there with us in God’s Kingdom. Therefore, we must do all we can to master these three areas evil in our lives and to not actively participate in evil that we may with the Saints, reach our victory with is heaven.

In reference to the mastering our very selves… Each one of us struggles to love and to be, as God has called us to be,with ourselves and others daily.  We also struggle to be who and what we are called to be for each unique community that we are sent to.  Because of these struggles, none can stand before God and claim to have loved and served Him consistently and in the manner that God has always desired of us… Yes, all have fallen short in loving and serving as we have been called…  As we mature, we can learn how to kill off and/or to distance ourselves from the unhealthy life aspects and relationships that are drawing us towards death. This is that life long process of learning how to `die to self’ that we may live

          As already alluded to, in any war the combatants are defined and can be identified by their commonly share purpose for engaging in the war and also, by the very methods and tools they use to engage the enemy. By the grace of God and the Holy Spirit given through baptism, spiritually active and ‘woke’ Christians use the spiritual tools of love and service in their spiritual ministry of war.  We do so, knowledgeable that one day we may even be invited to sacrifice our lives in this battle. American history reveals that in the natural military theatre, having superior firepower plus military methods coupled with a practical knowledge of the land and enemy are often the deciding factors in winning any battle or war. In applying these military principles to our spiritual war, how can any created being out prepare, maneuver or have more firepower and knowledge than God? Both common sense and simple faith reveals that the victory has already been won!!!

Finally, in remembering these military men and women’s lives, I am forced to acknowledge how their lives reflects one of planning, discipline and preparation like those of the Saints! In both lives we witness a military like need to plan and prepare – often down to nuts and bolts – in order to achieve one’s stated tasks.  Planning, discipline and preparation are virtues that military families live by and that the Saints always bring to their spiritual lives!!!  Their model of commitment to the community, a disciplined life, the willingness to personally study and to adopt a boot camp mentalityfor the long haul are all valuable virtues we can all adopt.  Like military personnel we too must humble ourselves and willfully train consistently in our personal spiritual boot camp, that we may serve – as called and when called – on our journey towards God’s Kingdom! \

Yes, that means building a dedicated prayer life and intimate relationship with God that’s grounded in faith, hope and a charity manifested as daily gratitude for life. Yes, that means starting just where you are now and continuing to read, pray and trying to live out the Scriptures daily. Yes, that means willfully ignoring the secular common sense principles offered culturally and willfully living by the spiritual principles set forth by God and Scripture – like actually tithing, taking a Sabbath rest with family, seeking to forgive in relationships when there appears nothing for us to gain, etc…

This Memorial Day weekend, please recommit – this day – to enlisting in and fighting for Jesus’ Church Militant!!! Amen.

Author: P. J. West, Jr.

Paul J. West Jr. is a cradle Catholic and native Chicagoan who has ministered in Catholic Schools, parishes and hospitals for over two decades. His current ministries are focused on both hospital chaplaincy and writing. Prior to this, he ministered as an educator for almost twenty five years teaching religion, scripture, philosophy and ethics at four Chicago area high schools and adults at the Chicago Catholic Scripture School. His parish ministry has included preaching, teaching, writing and serving as a Eucharistic minister. Mr. West, who is native south sider, has been married for almost 30 years to Dr. Joy West. They have raised four beautiful daughters who are all hardcore Bears and White Sox fans!!!!

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