Prayers & Insights from Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book

Editor’s note: Today, the U.S. observes Memorial Day, a day to remember and pray for those who died while serving in the Armed Forces. On this day, we’d like to offer a few comforting words and prayers from Fulton J. Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book.

Thoughts for Soldiers

The great French preacher Lacordaire once said the vocation of a soldier is next in dignity to the priesthood, not only because it commissioned him to defend justice on the field of battle and order on the field of peace, but also because it called him to the spirit and intention of sacrifice.

Generally, respect for groups varies with their number; the more numerous they are, the less they are esteemed.

But it is not so with the fighting forces.

No group equally large is so revered. It is their high calling to the defense of justice and freedom that makes them loved.

It was a soldier who first uttered the words recalled by the Church at Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to have Thee come under my roof; but only say the word, and my ser­vant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8).

Life is a battle. St. Paul himself said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7).

In a similar spirit, he enjoined Timothy: “This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare” (I Tim. 1:18).

The soldier’s armor in the great battle of life is as follows: “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take also the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:14-17).

If the Cross of our Savior was a proof that there was something wrong in man that could be righted only by a sacrificial death, why should not this war be to me a proof that there is something so wrong with the modern world that it can be righted only by my sacrificial life?

I am not fighting for a freedom that means the right to do whatever I please but for a freedom that means the right to do whatever I ought. Oughtness implies Law; Law implies Intelligence; and Intelligence implies God.

I am not fighting for freedom from some thing; but for freedom for something: the glorious freedom to call my soul my own and then to save it in cooperation with God’s grace.

I am not fighting to preserve the kind of world we had just before this war. If I were, I would be fighting to preserve a world that produced tyrants and dictators. The new world must be a better world than that, or it is not worth fighting for.

If a sparrow does not fall to the ground without God’s knowing it, then a man does not fall. Nothing is beyond God’s control. Even on the lake during the storm, the disci­ples, who all were experienced sailors, were reproved by Him for their lack of faith.

He did not mean that their fears were groundless, for many have been drowned at sea, but rather that they should have faced such a crisis with greater confidence and trust in Him.

Selected Prayers

Prayer in Time of War

O God, who bring wars to nought and shield by Thy power all who hope in Thee, overthrowing those who assail them; help Thy servants who implore Thy mercy so that the fierce might of their enemy may be brought low and we may never cease to praise and thank Thee.

O God, who hast dominion over all realms and all kings, who by striking heals, and by pardoning saves: stretch out over us Thy mercy, so that by Thy power we may enjoy peace and tranquility and use them for our healing and amendment.

Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Prayers for Peace

O God, the author and lover of peace, to know whom is to live, to serve whom is to reign; shield Thy suppliants from all assaults, so that we who trust in Thy protection may fear no foe. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who in Thy mercy hears the prayers of sinners, pour forth, we beseech Thee, all grace and blessing upon our coun­try and its citizens.

We pray in particular for the President, for our Congress, for all our soldiers, for all who defend us in ships, whether on the seas or in the skies, for all who are suffering the hardships of war. We pray for all who are in peril or in danger. Bring us all, after the troubles of this life, into the haven of peace, and reunite us all together forever, O dear Lord, in Thy glorious heavenly kingdom.

Prayer Before Battle

More than ever I feel the need of having You close to me. At any moment I may find myself in battle.

However rigorous the task that awaits me, may I fulfill my duty with courage. If death should overtake me on this field, may I die at peace with You.

Prayer on Coming Through Battle Unharmed

During this terrible day, You have been kind enough to protect me. I make haste to thank You, but I am thinking all the time of the many who have fallen, my officers and my comrades. May they receive from You all the rewards, the peace, and the rest that are reserved for brave men who did their best. Give their unhappy families, please, the consolation of believing in Your kindness and love.

Prayer of a Wounded Man

You have permitted me to be struck, but You have saved me from death. For the sake of my beloved parents, and for my own sake, I thank You from the bottom of my heart.

During the long hours of inaction, may my thoughts often turn to You. Support those who do not have hope and faith. May there be no more wars, never any more. Change the hearts that are in men that they may feel like brothers and not kill one another.+

Prayer for a Dying Comrade

We pray that this comrade’s heart may not be troubled. His strength is going, and he has suffered a great deal, but he is not afraid. Let him feel that his sins have been forgiven, and that all trials are past for him.

May he not worry about his family, which he loves dearly. He dies believing in You, as they live believing in You. May Your face and the happiness of eternal life shine splendidly before his eyes.

Commemoration of the Dead

Remember, O Lord, Thy servants, (name them), who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace.

To these, O Lord, and to all who rest in Christ, grant, we pray Thee, a place of refreshment, of light, and of peace. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

This article is collected from Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.

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Venerable Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) was one of the best-loved prelates of twentieth century Catholicism. A prolific writer and orator, a distinguished scholar and teacher, an influential master of the media, Ven. Sheen was one of the most effective communicators of our time. His scores of books have offered inspiration, profound thought, and penetrating analysis of Christian faith and life.

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