By Father Jeffrey Shooner
In the Air Force, I served as an intelligence officer with a specialization in target intelligence (analyzing critical nodes of a target system and how to disrupt that system). I have often been asked how it is possible to go from that career to the priesthood, usually with an expression of incongruity between the two. On this Memorial Day, I thought I would share a few reflections:
First, those in the military must be grounded in something greater than themselves — truth. In an age of relativism, both a soldier and a priest must know that there is something worth giving their lives for. For the soldier, this is often equality, liberty, democracy, life, justice, peace or human rights. For the priest, this is God and his love, given fully for us in Jesus.
Second, the soldier and the priest both know the meaning of sacrifice. On Memorial Day, we are thankful and remember the ultimate sacrifice given for us by so many soldiers. Many priests have been called on to give the same sacrifice of their lives in service to God and his people. But it is more than that. It is the daily sacrifice of service, of discipline, of limitations, of opinions and of relationships.
Third, the soldier and the priest both submit their individual will to the service of a body and mission that is greater than their own personal comfort. This takes great humility. There are no soldiers or priests who are “American idols” or superstars. They give of themselves for the greater good. In a sense, they lose themselves for a greater purpose.
On this day, we pause to remember the sacrifice of so many soldiers. It is something we should remember more often.
Every day, the priest offers, once again, the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. “Do this in memory of me.” We remember in a way that makes present (anamnesis) the only begotten Son of God’s gift of his life for our salvation. It, too, is something we should remember more often.
Of course, not all soldiers or priests are saints. We can easily call to mind scandals in the military or in the church. But they are scandals precisely because they do not live up to the examples or expectations of selfless service.
On this Memorial Day, may we be inspired by the selfless sacrifice of soldiers to ground our own lives in something greater than ourselves, to sacrifice for the good of others, and to do so not for our own glory, but in humble service.
Father Shooner is a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, the Vicar for Priests and director the Vocation Office. He served in the U.S. Air Force.
As I read this reflection on the last day of May (from Mother’s Day to Memorial Day) and the fact that today is the Visitation of Mary, I can’t help but add to the list of soldier and priest, the role of mother. She too sacrifices her life for the good of others and not all are saints, although mine was!
Thanks, Fr. Shooner for your reflection and for reminding us to remember those in our lives who make daily sacrifices for the good of others.
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