Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Prayer for Soldiers

When her grandson went into the army, a friend composed a prayer for him, printed it, and taking his picture, laminated it into a prayer card, with the prayer for him on one side, and his picture on the other.  She made copies and passed out those prayer cards to her friends, and even strangers, and me.
I pray for him each morning.
The prayer itself asks the Father to keep him from spiritual and bodily harm, and to give him and his family courage, strength and hope.  And it closes with a prayer for peace, “to all your children in every nation.”  I find it a most fitting prayer to pray, and especially its reminder of something we often forget:  spiritual harm is just as bad as bodily harm.  In fact, for a soldier it is worse.
I recently read that the most common career for the early Church martyrs was that of a soldier; their minds were already attuned to a willing death.  We read St. Mark’s words of Jesus about crossing the lake: “Let us cross over to the other side” (Mk 4:35), rarely considering that He will say those words to us one day --- perhaps soon.  We rarely think about death, and avoid “gloomy thoughts,” or in our masked fear make light of them, but a soldier faces death squarely on.  He pledges he is willing to die for his country.  And especially in war zones, he thinks about death.  But I wonder, does he think about eternal death --- or eternal life --- as often?  He will accept an order from his officer to give up his bodily life, but will he accept as easily an order from His God to give up the same life, spiritually?
Will we?
It is good that the prayer prays that the soldier be kept from spiritual harm.  At the end of every mass at the two parishes I attend, the Prayer to St. Michael is said aloud: “Defend us in battle, be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”  We all face spiritual battles each day.  We certainly need defenders, like St. Michael, for it is a war we cannot win alone.  And while we pray to him, we need prayers for each other, too. 
Soldiers face physical harm, but many people face spiritual harm, and some are probably more targeted than others, in particular those who decide to use their lives to fight the spiritual battles of the world head on, spiritual soldiers in careers of religious life or in educating our children in the ways of God.  If you have a child or grandchild in a career facing spiritual harm, I think it would be a good thing to follow my friend’s example and print up prayer cards for them, and pass them out wherever you go.
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I watched a video yesterday of a conference I had attended in 1993, at Notre Dame University.  The priest speaker spoke about Mary’s call, echoing her Son’s, to live our lives in love.  She called for a change of hearts, and a commitment to action.  And then he did something I had not seen at a Catholic gathering before, he issued an altar call.  He asked anyone who had any inkling that God might be calling them to make a commitment to religious life to come up to the stage, and make a commitment to action: to investigate sincerely whether He was calling them or not.  I was surprised when about 300 people came up to the stage.  He said: “You say there are no vocations?  Are you asking?”
Outside the conference hall were set up book sellers and advertisements for various religious orders.  I also noticed one religious order that had a sign-up sheet for a discernment weekend --- there were about 3 names on the list.  Out of curiosity, the next day I went back to that table and asked how the sign-ups were going.  “Do you want to come for a discernment weekend?” he asked me.  “We now have three weekends scheduled and full, but we are taking names and will set up additional times as soon as we can.”
“Impressed” wouldn’t be an adequate word to describe how I felt. 
Those who would choose religious life need our prayers and support --- and perhaps our asking them.           

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