What It Means to be a Soldier for Christ

As a young adult, I was fond of the symbolism behind “bearing our hardship of the Gospel as a soldier of Christ,” according to St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy (2:3).  Warriors like Joan of Arc (my namesake) encouraged me to prepare myself for the good fight.  In some ways, the military became an icon of what it meant to lay down one’s life for a friend.

And I wanted to be among the soldiers.  The fiery spirit of zeal burning in my heart beckoned me to fight for justice, never faltering and always ready, willing to sacrifice whatever was necessary, in order that truth – God’s truth – might prevail.

Of course, there were (and still are) many Christians who are called to bear arms against the enemy, but the vast majority of us will not find ourselves facing a human enemy, only a spiritual one.  St. Martin of Tours, once a highly respected and decorated military officer, chose to relinquish the sword in favor of peace.  He was what we consider today one of the first conscientious objectors.

Fr. Vincent Cappodano is another example of one who understood what it meant to be among God’s warriors.  He volunteered as a military chaplain in the Vietnam War, and he died among the men he administered the Last Rites to.  He never carried or shot a gun.

Blessed Carlo Gnocchi initially joined the Italian fascist troops under Mussolini’s rule out of loyal nationalism rather than genuine charity.  But, since he was first and foremost a priest, he also did not carry a weapon as a chaplain among the mountain infantrymen.  This experience – being on the battlefield in the midst of such horrors and ugliness – transformed his entire life.  He eventually survived the war (a miracle in itself) and established an organization that cared for the orphans who were the ongoing victims of war.

Every saint who fought in battle knew what it meant to be a soldier of Christ.  It meant to bring peace to the troops on the battlefield.  It meant to be a witness of hope among such desolation and despair.  It meant fighting against war if they survived, and fighting for those who remained – those victims of war (the widows, the orphans).

During my fascination with the military, I was a young college student, overzealous and naïve.  In some ways, however, I knew what it meant to fight the real enemy – the devil, the flesh, and the world.  This is also the battle we fight as warriors of Jesus.  Consider some thoughts I penned one day during Adoration, shortly after the War on Terror was in full force:

Many of my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters hate war so badly that they decide to boycott everything that has to do with it out of an extreme passion for peace.  I hate war and evil with their same passion, but I know that hastily turning away from everything concerning war will not bring about peace, because millions of forgotten military men and women die alone and in such terrible agony.

As Catholics, we desire peace to such a degree that we believe fervently the only way to do this is by protesting literal war.  But in protesting it we are not peacemakers; we are people who fail to see the root problems causing war.  We neglect to understand and seek out those affected by war, military and civilians alike.  We cry ‘peace’ at rallies, believing this is the only way to overcome war.

But I say the only way to overcome war is to purposefully go to places of war.  There we will see the forgotten ones who die mercilessly.  We will find the victims who sacrificed their lives for a people who despise their mission and purpose.  We must, therefore, seek out places of war in order that we find those who need us most.  If we claim to be Christians, people of peace, then we must bring Christ’s peace to those dying in the battlefields of our world.

The war, my friends, is against you and me.  The enemy has been unleashed upon us, and the battlefields are where your friends and mine, your family and mine, your neighbors and mine, are suffering from spiritual decay and death.

We must be agents of peace as soldiers of Christ.  But acquiring true peace means we must courageously face the ugliness of war, the consequences of our sins.  We must be willing to enter into the battles without fear, without reticence, and face the enemy head on.  True peace can only be attained when we live a life of fortitude and perseverance, when we faithfully and unwaveringly conquer what’s most difficult and what hurts the most.

Today, our battlefields are our homes, workplace, neighborhoods, social media connections, and even our churches.  The battlefield is in our minds.  Sometimes, yes, the battlefield is a literal one, as in the case of our persecuted and martyred brothers and sisters in Christ.  We must be prepared for this – for all of it – without the blink of an eye or flutter of the heart.

To conquer evil requires love, and love is what faces fear head on.  Do not despise those arguments you find yourself mediating.  Do not shrivel in the midst of poverty on the streets.  Do not turn away when you read another headline about euthanasia drugs or late-term abortions.  Don’t ignore the person with a disability.  And do not cower when you face your own demons, which are often closeted and clandestine.

Overcome evil by facing it rather than fleeing from it.  Be a peacemaker in the midst of such turbulent times as these, and you will discover how God is preparing you for your personal mission as His soldier.  It may involve difficult conversations with people you love.  It may even mean that some people will no longer speak to you or will even outright slander your name, verbally assault you, or shun you.

Do not cower, friends.  Satan uses our weaknesses and fears to win the war against souls.  But you and I are called to bring Jesus to the wounded, the bleeding, the weary, the lonely, and the brokenhearted in this world.  We are called to be light to the battle weary.  Be His light.  Bring His hope, and you will discover more peace than the world can promise.

image: jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

By

Jeannie Ewing believes the world focuses too much on superficial happiness and then crumbles when sorrow strikes.  Because life is about more than what makes us feel happy, she writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and is the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph , A Sea Without A Shore: Spiritual Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary, and Lonely , and Waiting with Purpose: Persevering When God Says “Not Yet.”  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website lovealonecreates.com.

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  • JohnC

    Great article, Jeannie and so true for the battle we will have on our hands. I just listened to a talk and the comment was made “He who loves, hates. He who hates, fights.” This refers to love of truth and hate of evil or untruth.

  • Very well said! Thanks, John. I agree.

  • 1yRolandoOFS0

    The patron of soldiers and beggars, St. Martin of Tours, was one of the first saints not to be martyred, Born of pagan parents in what is now Hungary and raised in Italy, this son of a veteran was forced at the age of 15 to serve in the army. He became a catechumen and was baptized at18, At 23, he became conscientious objector, refusing a war bonus, saying to his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.”
    Being a soldier for Christ is neither simple nor easy.

  • Vince Contreras

    This article is lacking in one regard. While all Catholics should agree that war is a result of sin and should never be the preferred solution for solving otherwise intractable problems, the Catholic tradition solidly recognizes that it can sometimes be a necessary evil. To be a soldier is an honorable profession and at it’s finest is a form of self-sacrifice to protect the lives of innocents. We have a tradition of Just War, not No War. As the late Holy Father Saint Pope John Paul II once said, we are not pacifists.

  • 1yRolandoOFS0

    It won’t b e easy, but his tradition, too, will change. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not a commander-in-chief. Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary pacifist.

  • Vince Contreras

    I realize that is your personal opinion, but none of it has any basis in official Catholic teaching. Peace. 🙂

  • 1yRolandoOFS0

    Some bishops have asked Pope Francis to consider an encyclical re-addressing the just war theory.

  • Vince Contreras

    That’s fine. I wouldn’t mind seeing an encyclical focusing on this teaching of the Church. But even if he writes one, it doesn’t follow that established Church teaching is going to change. That’s a lot of Catechisms to recall and re-publish:

    CCC 2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.” (quoting Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II)

    CCC 2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy…The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

    CCC 2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense.

    Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.(again quoting Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II)

  • 1yRolandoOFS0

    …established Church teaching… That’s a lot of Catechisms to recall and re-publish.

    Two questions:
    1)Does the Gospel depend on established Church teaching?
    2)Rather than recall and re-publish a lot of Catechisms, should the Gospel just be reinterpreted to conform to Church teachings?

    This saying is hard; who can accept it? (Jn.: 6:60)

    And one observation:
    I served my country as Marine during the Vietnam war. Today, fourscore and one year after the fall of Saigon, there is consensus that the war contributed little to the common good of any nation and did little to maintain peace.
    For the past 15+ years, our nation has been in the throes of the continuing chaos of “corrective actions” in Afghanistan and of a preemptive war in Iraq. There is yet untold and unaccounted “collateral damage,” and the majority of my fellow veterans are dealing with PTSD and other mementos of armed conflict and death.

    I can only speak from personal experience, but I know that there is no such thing as “a just war.” War is just war. And the Prince of Peace, on the verge of death, adamantly demanded

    ”Stop, no more of this!” (Lk. 22:51)

    I laid down my weapons, asked for mercy and took up my cross.

  • Vince Contreras

    To answer both your questions: Established Church teachings are the Gospel interpreted by the authority on earth that Christ established. And that authority is the Catholic Church.

    The same Christ who said, “Stop, no more of this,” also said “whoever does not have a sword should sell his robe and buy one.” One command of Christ does not negate the other. When Christ commanded the disciples to not resist his arrest, he was not teaching about pacifism. Rather, he was showing that he was obeying the Father’s will laying his life down of his own accord for the sins of the world.

  • 1yRolandoOFS0

    May I say that I am still learning, and that I acknowledge, respect and appreciate your thoughts and comments..

    Established Church teachings are not the Gospel. They are based on the Gospel and interpreted by individuals who, though they depend on the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit, are still only human. Interpretation of the Gospel and some “established Church teachings” has not changed. However, authorized by the Catholic Church, interpretation has evolved as our understanding of God, creation and our human family has improved and matured. Ours is a living and effective faith with the Gospel as our guide to a life of beatitude. Interpretation is not a reflection of changing times, but a response to the reality of the times we live in and journey through on our way Home.

    Exegesis of Lk. 22:35-38 suggests that Jesus was preparing his disciples to face a world hostile to their preaching, not advising the disciples to buy a sword, The Twelve still had difficulty understanding Jesus’ teaching and mission. They took his metaphor literally, “Lord, look, there are two swords here.” Jesus lost his patience and replied, “It is enough!”
    The Prince of Peace had just told the disciples at supper that “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (LJn. 13:15) He was doing his Father’s will, which had already been revealed: You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 5:8) Jesus told his disciples that the only way to do that was to take up not the sword but our daily cross as we continue on the Way Home.
    The Indian epic, the Mahabharata, offers one of the first written discussions of a “just war.” It was not until after Constantine had animated the Church Militant that the Magisterium authorized the “just war theory” proposed by Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas.
    Again, I can only say this personally, but I think even the Church authority will agree, that “a just war” can exist only in theory. In reality, war is war. And Jesus, the Son of God, clearly said, Stop, no more of this!
    It is a hard saying and difficult to accept.
    .

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