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.