A military career in not un-"Christian"

By  Fr. Timothy Nelligan, Catholic Register Special
  • March 30, 2009
{mosimage}Over the past few weeks I have read and re-read the articles in The Catholic Register beginning with Sheila Dabu’s article on Capt. Joseph Nonato and his feelings on faith and the circumstances in which he found himself in Afghanistan. The subsequent rebuke of Capt. Nonato by two letter writers left a rather sour taste in my mouth.

There seems to be a lack of knowledge and understanding of soldiering and the role that faith plays in the lives of soldiers.

Every person has the right and freedom to choose what they believe is best for them in their lives. The “armchair theologian” approach of those who believe a military career is un-“Christian” purports that those who choose to serve their country in uniform are condemning themselves in the eyes of God.  If, in reaching that conclusion, they think that any Christian, let alone a Catholic, wilfully seeks violence as an occupation, then they are grossly and sadly mistaken.
As a serving Roman Catholic Military Chaplain and former airborne infanteer, I can assure them the choice of military service can be a faith-based decision that is undeserving of criticism. To suggest that a military career is inappropriate for Catholics is insulting to those who have served faithfully and honourably throughout our history.  The military lives lost in the cause of peace — to say nothing of those who live with the physical and mental scars of duty — have been given freely so that the world can some day be safe from those who would, sometimes in the name of God, kill, maim, torture or terrorize. These men and women serve to make the world a place where the need for arms will pass away.  The role of the military is not just to engage in foreign conflicts, but also to provide emergency domestic aid. Have people forgotten the flood in Winnipeg, the ice and snow storms that crippled parts of Ontario and Québec?

I would caution critics to rethink their judgmental attitudes. If all they see in the forces is a life of violence and weapons, then perhaps they should take aim at the police, too. Do they not take lives of those who would do violence to others?

The conflict of faith in the heart of every person is a conflict that they must resolve for themselves, and I can assure you that the conflict in the hearts of our troops and police is very real.  When force is needed to stop an aggressor, it is never a happy thing. The relationship that many of our troops have with God and the role they are sometimes called to fill finds them asking God to forgive them and to forgive those who seek their lives simply because of who they are.  

Rather than condemning those who are willing to give their lives for our safety and freedoms, it would be more productive to ask God to convert the hearts of those who visit harm on others because of greed, power and lack of respect for life.

(Nelligan is a Roman Catholic priest for the Military Ordinariate of Canada, and is the Chapel Life Co-ordinator for Queen of Heaven Chapel in Greenwood, N.S.)

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