This past week—while watching the tragic Afghanistan exodus unfold—something broke deep within me, bringing me to a realization concerning the Catholic Church. It’s been building for some time, and I started to understand my growing frustration with the hierarchy since the summer of 2018. The pandemic and the lack of supernatural faith increased this frustration, disappointment, and righteous anger that, at times, crosses into sinful anger.
Why do I see a connection between Afghanistan and the corruption in the hierarchy? It has to do with the type of men I have known in my lifetime.
I served in the U.S. Navy for 6 years. I still clearly remember the moment the news came in that we had gone into Afghanistan. I was manning the phones and taking notes from various news broadcasts for the three-star general I was serving under as a relief worker at the Pentagon Family Assistance Center. In the other room were other relief workers and countless family members of those who had been killed in the Pentagon attack. It wasn’t a job I usually had, but they were short of volunteers in the call center, so there I sat in my dress whites, taking notes when the first bombs started to fall.
The three-star general I served under during those 45 days of relief work was a man of integrity, bravery (he helped pull people out of the crash area and was suffering from minor smoke inhalation), vulnerability, and great compassion. He didn’t avoid the deep suffering he was confronting in the grief-stricken families; he went straight into the heart of it. I do not know his religious affiliation, but he was a man who did not shirk carrying the Cross and all of its burdens.
Fast-forward four years, I was stationed at the National Naval Medical Center-Bethesda, now Walter Reed, while I was undergoing treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from that relief work. I lived in the Marine barracks for a few weeks. I met men who had been injured in combat through IEDs, shrapnel, and bullets. One of my friends was the sole survivor of the IED blast that took his three best friends’ lives. Another friend was 23 years old and would walk with a cane for the rest of his life. One individual had lost his leg in a blast and was training to ski competitively.
My closest friends during this difficult time were a family; in which the wife was an Army Veteran and the husband had served in the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy. They had three kids who gave me a preview of the joys and difficulties of parenting. Liam, the husband, was like a father to me. He was a profoundly brilliant man who had given himself in the service of his country to every combat mission possible, including the Gulf War.
By the time I met him when we were both stationed in England, he was a deeply haunted man. He was haunted by ghosts who would come in his dreams. His best friend blew himself up to commit suicide. He himself had been directly or indirectly responsible for the killing of many people during combat missions. Then, he could no longer function in peace because he had spent too many years at war. He suffered from severe PTSD. He died suddenly a few years ago of a massive seizure at 50. Shortly before he died, he told me Our Lady seemed to be calling him back, but he hadn’t fully committed yet, as he had fallen away from the Church many decades prior.
I have also lost friends to suicide. I have seen up close the scars of war. Three of my cousins served in the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan while I served in the Navy. I have experienced the terror and devastation of violence and terrorism. I was 20-years-old when I became a 9/11 relief worker. My relief work began on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and I visited the crash site for the first time on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. I have seen the Cross countless times throughout my life and felt its weight heavy upon my shoulders.
These men I served with were willing to die for the man next to them. A lot of them were nominal Christians, some were atheists or agnostics, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, etc. They drank heavily, and many went through women the way they went through drinks. They weren’t saints, but they understood that to lay one’s life down for their brother is the highest calling.
Even though I now firmly believe—and have since shortly after I got out of the military—that we never should have gone into Iraq or Afghanistan, these men who were my friends, brothers, and father figures, knew how to fight for who they love. They were courageous, masculine, and heroic. Some of them were sinners of the worst kind, but at the end of the day, they were loyal and dependable when it counted.
Men of sacrifice
What does all of this have to do with the Church hierarchy? It is this level of dedication, love, heroism, masculinity, and leadership that has been lacking from the hierarchy in the Church for a very long time. There is an oppressive veil of fear that has overtaken our leadership. Rather than boldly leading us with a spirit of supernatural faith, we are often left out in the cold over worries about money, liability, and how we look to the world. We can’t afford the “embarrassment.”
Our leaders seem overly concerned with honor, praise, power, comfort, security, and luxury. Many will compromise and water down the Good News because we don’t want to be rejected or cast off by our culture that has gone completely mad. We don’t want people to leave our parishes over actual Church teaching because there would be a loss of revenue. These men who have been given the single highest calling in this life—that of being one of Christ’s priests—have shirked the True Cross. They do not want to lay down their lives, while my unbelieving Marine friends willingly sought to do so.
These men I served with were not saints who were being mortified for others, but they were living the sacrifices necessary when duty called. They were and are willing to lay down their lives for the mission. We as Catholics have the single greatest mission in the world: to lead others to Christ. That leadership begins with the hierarchy, the bishops and priests, who are called to teach, to govern, and to sanctify the People of God, so we can boldly go out into the world and lead it to Christ.
To be led in these increasingly dark days of radical secularism and the threat of soft totalitarianism hanging over us, we need men who are willing to die with Christ for the salvation of souls. Men who pray without ceasing, sacrifice and mortify themselves for us and for the conversion of others, those who seek to die to self-love, honor, praise, power, luxury and comfort. If my Marine friends can sleep on dirty floors where they must use their flashlight each night to beat out camel spiders from their sleeping bags, our priests should be able to mortify themselves and embrace embarrassment for the People of God and the conversion of the world. The stakes are much higher than any combat mission.
A cry from the People of God
This article is a cry from the People of God for authentic, masculine, holy leadership. The hour is very late. There will be no clinging to comfort, luxuries, and worldly power, praise, and security in the coming years. Hostile forces are at our doors and within the Church. We all have to choose between Christ and this world. Will we be a people of supernatural faith or will we fall into the spirit of the age?
As a Veteran, I found myself angry at all the lies we have been told for 20 years about Afghanistan. But it’s the same kind of leadership we have been getting in the Church. Lies and passive-aggressive blaming of the victims and the faithful. We have been deeply wounded by our priests and bishops. Rather than being met with contrite hearts, penance, lengthy reparations, humility, and the vulnerability of loving fathers, we have been given even more red-tape, bureaucracy, blame games, and legal teams.
Where are the brave men who are willing to die to their own comfort, self-love, and desires for Christ’s people? My friends gave everything to serve this country when they thought it was needed. When will our bishops and priests do the same for us as representatives of Christ here on earth? Where are the men who will lay down their lives for their sheep? When will you lead us along the Way of the Cross to eternal life?
There are countless priests who faithfully live their vocation each day, but there are also far too many who belong to the world. The wounds from the sins of those bishops and priests run very deep. We need priest-saints who will rise up in order to lay down their lives for us before the hour is too late. We are at war, and the enemy is prowling about like a lion seeking the ruin of souls.
Please pray for our veterans, the people of Afghanistan, the dead, and our priests.