THE PRIEST A SOLDIER —
“Labora sicut bonus miles Christi Jesu.”
“Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
The priest is more than once compared by St. Paul to a soldier; and rightly so, for the more of the soldier there is in him, the better a priest he is. We therefore dedicate this article to the Servant of God Fr. Emil Joseph Kapaun (April 20, 1916 – May 23, 1951). Fr. Kapaun was a Roman Catholic priest and United States Army captain who served as a United States Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War. Kapaun was a chaplain in the Burma Theater of World War II, then the Battle of Unsan and served again as a chaplain with the U.S. Army in Korea, where he was captured. He died in a prisoner of war camp. Recipient of Medal of Honour, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device, Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, Prisoner of War Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Japan Clasp, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, Combat Infantryman Badge, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Korea Medal, Republic of Korea War Service Medal. In 1993 the biggest honour of all, St. John Paul declared him a Servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonisation.
Fr. Kapaun is not the only priest soldier but he is an outstanding example of one and we felt he should be included in this article as one of our persons who inspires.
At first sight, nothing seems more opposed than the two callings, but a closer examination reveals the fact that several of their leading features are the same. The same general conditions of life are found in both, and the same qualities are required.
1. The priest, like the soldier, once engaged is no longer free; he is no longer at liberty to forsake his profession, and to turn to any of the pursuits of life which were previously open to him. He cannot even combine them, to any extent, with the duties he has assumed. “No man” says St. Paul (ibid), being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular business” That is, he has no right to do so. The soldier has ceased to belong to himself. His very life is not his own. The Roman soldier that St. Paul had in mind was separated from family, kindred, home, country; indeed, everywhere the soldier’s life is a life of detachment. In active warfare he has to hold himself always in readiness; at any time he may be called upon to face certain death. And therefore he is best without a family. If he has left behind him persons tenderly loved. It is not good that he should give them much thought; such memories would unman him. In a word, the life of a soldier in active service is a life of detachment, of self-devotion; a ready gift of his energies, and, if need be, of his life, to the service of his country.
What else is the life of a priest, if he is true to his calling? His time, his energies, hiss influence, all his gifts, belong to the great purpose for which he became a priest. Like St. Paul, he is ready to give his very life for it: But I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls? — 2 Corinthians 12:15.
2. The qualities of the soldier are no less necessary in the priest, — courage, endurance discipline. The true soldier is the type of courage. He is fearless in presence of danger, or, if fear is awakened in him, he does not yield to it, else he would branded as a coward. But his courage is only occasionally appealed to, whereas his power of endurance is taxed at every hour. Long marches, scanty provisions, excessive heat or cold, lack of shelter, sickness, — these are what try the soldier much more than facing the enemy. This is why St. Paul does not say: “Have courage; be brave;” but “suffer hardship” for such is the meaning of the Greek term, κόπος, rendered in the Vulgate by the word labora. Last of all, but not least, discipline. In the Roman army discipline was of the strictest kind, and the oath of obedience (sacramentum) was looked upon as the most sacred of all. In man, as in nature, only disciplined power is useful. Uncontrolled, it wastes itself, and often proves destructive.
Courage, too, is a requirement of the priesthood; physical courage sometimes, moral courage always. To be faithful to duty, at any cost; to live up to his convictions whatever others may say; to speak out for the right, to censure and to oppose what is wrong; to carry out necessary but unpopular measures; to face; the risk of being misunderstood or blamed, or to forfeit certain advantages sooner than relinquish a useful purpose, — all this is necessary in the priest and it means in all cases to have true moral courage.
The power of endurance is not less necessary. The life of a priest, if he strives to meet all the requirements of his position, is generally a trying one. His mission may be what is called a hard one. The demands upon his physical strength may be as much, as he can bear. His patience is tried in numberless ways. Among those with whom he is placed in contact, there are the thoughtless, the unreasonable, the obstinate, the deceitful, the selfish, the ungrateful; he has to bear with all, and strive by dint of gentleness and forbearance to win them to Christ.
Finally, his life has to be one of order, of rule, of discipline. In many things he is left to his own initiative; but in a still larger number he is under rule, — the rule of the Gospel and the rules of the Church. His action as a priest is individual in one sense, in another it is collective, that is, associated with the action of the Church herself and of her representatives. In both it is equally withdrawn from capriciousness and subject to law.
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”
“It is the soldier’s pride to fight for his king; what an honour to be the soldier of Christ! But if campaigning means endurance, he who endureth not is no soldier” — St. John Chrysostom on 2 Timothy
A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus
You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well. Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.
A Worker Approved by God
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”
In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Please pray for our priests, remembering especially our military chaplains and Vocations in your daily conversation with God. We in turn remember you collectively in our prayers. May the Lord our God walk always at your side and the Holy Spirit’s breath guide your life.
Pax et Bonum