Duty, Honor, Country is the motto of the United States Military Academy. Honor, Courage, Commitment is a modern motto of the United States Marine Corps. The Marines official, and long standing motto of Semper Fidelis, means Always Faithful.
There are more poll results out showing that Catholics are really disgruntled with the Church. Again, as a recent convert, I’m struck by the disconnect between the average lay Catholic’s opinions and the stark reality of being a Catholic Christian in the modern world.
But the crux of the matter is, it has never been easy to be a Catholic, ever. Being Catholic is not something for the timid, or the faint-hearted. Being Christian isn’t either, and for those Christians who profess an “easy way” to salvation, their professions can be summed up in one word: Delusional.
But Frank, you may say, I was born into the Church; I didn’t sign up for this outfit on my own, what about me? You are in the same boat as I am. In other words, you, just like me, are a convert too, and your conversion, just like mine, is an ongoing one.
Begging your pardon, I wrote once before that we weren’t promised a rose garden. I remember as I wandered around in the wilderness of this world, when I was pushing devotion to Christ as far out on the periphery of my daily life as possible, to the extent that it really was like the planet Pluto in my personal orbit of priorities, that this behavior of mine was the same as the word I pointed to above: delusional.
Duty doesn’t seem to me to be a word much revered in our culture any longer. It is right up there with sacrifice in it’s popularity. Oh, we honor it in the breach, but we don’t necessarily honor it by actually putting it into practice. And this putting our duty as Christians into practice is why I am glad I’m a Catholic. Because, frankly, the Catholic Church has all of the spiritual and logistical structures in place to successfully take little Private First Classes (for Christ) like me all the way through this enlistment in this valley of tears called “life on earth.”
Prior to becoming a Catholic, as a Christian, I would have been brought up on charges of dereliction of duty and been in a whole heap of trouble as a result. “Know thyself” and I know this for sure. Now, I just embrace the trouble and hold fast to the lifeline the Church has thrown me. And I give everything I’ve got to toeing the line.
I remember walking fire-watch one night in the squad bay of my platoon, in the middle of the night on Parris Island, looking out the window and gazing across the marshes of the wetlands that border Port Royal Sound thinking to myself What in the hell have I gotten myself into? This is unbelievably tough! All the books I read about this place did nothing to prepare me for the gritty reality of it. Lord Help! I was seventeen years old and I had only one goal: to become a Marine.
So I prayed for perseverance and I steeled my mind to endure the physical and mental trials that I had to endure in order to overcome the obstacles placed in front of me if I was to earn the title of Marine. I prayed a lot at Parris Island, and at Quantico, and at countless other places, that I would endure. And I knew that there was no guarantee that I would be physically unharmed during my career. I figured being a Marine would kill me, or lead me to being killed, and I signed the dotted line anyway.
My experience isn’t your experience, because each one of us has to make our own way through our pilgrimage on earth. And we can’t earn our way into heaven either. But guess what? If you are a Catholic, you aren’t a civilian anymore. And if heaven is your goal, as it is mine, then this is where you want to be. But you also have to do your duty. Because you can’t have the one (heaven) without the other (duty). But don’t take my word for it. Check St. Paul from today’s readings,
I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace; one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
I don’t know about you, but to me this doesn’t sound easy to implement on my own. I don’t have the willpower for it. Check this from Baruch from today’s Office of Readings (part of your logistical support system!). How do you spell duty? Starting with the word integrity. Look in the mirror.
Integrity belongs to the Lord our God; to us the look of shame we wear today, to us, the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem, to our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, as to our ancestors, because we have sinned in the sight of the Lord, have disobeyed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God telling us to follow the commandments which the Lord had ordained for us. From the day when the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until today we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, we have been disloyal, refusing to listen to his voice. And so the disasters, and the curse which the Lord pronounced through his servant Moses the day he brought our fathers out of Egypt to give us a land where milk and honey flow, have seized on us, disasters we experience today. Despite all the words of those prophets whom he sent us, we have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God, but, each following the dictates of his evil heart, we have taken to serving alien gods, and doing what is displeasing to the Lord our God. (Baruch 1:15:22)
Does that sound like anyone you know, or anyplace you happen to be? That was me to a “T.” And still is me, if I let my guard down. As my patron Macarius says, pray “Lord help!” Baruch is another of the books that got tossed in the Reformation, but which was always in the Canon from the very beginning. What happens when we choose dereliction of duty?
And so the Lord has carried out the sentence which he passed on us, on our judges who governed Israel, on our kings and leaders, on the men of Israel and of Judah; what he did to Jerusalem has never been paralleled under the wide heavens – all this in conformity with what was written in the Law of Moses; we were all reduced to eating the flesh of our own sons and daughters. Furthermore, he has handed them over into the power of all the kingdoms that surround us, to be loathed and avoided by all the neighbouring nations among whom he scattered them. Instead of being masters, they found themselves enslaved, because we had sinned against the Lord our God by not listening to his voice.(Baruch 2:1-5)
Why do we get complacent with what we’re told? Why don’t we walk the walk instead of just talking the talk? You know the answer—this is difficult! Baruch provides us a prayer though, and I intend to pray it.
Almighty Lord, God of Israel, a soul in anguish, a troubled heart now cries to you: Listen and have pity, Lord, for we have sinned in your sight. You sit enthroned forever, while we perish continually. ‘Almighty Lord, God of Israel, hear the prayer of the dead of Israel, of the sons of those who have sinned against you and have not listened to the voice of the Lord their God, hence the disasters that have seized on us. Do not call to mind the misdeeds of our ancestors, but remember instead your power and your name. You are indeed the Lord our God and we long to praise you, Lord, since you have put respect for you in our hearts to encourage us to call on your name. We long to praise you in our exile, for we have emptied our hearts of the evil inclinations of our ancestors who sinned against you. Look on us today, still in exile where you have dispersed us as something execrable, accursed, condemned, in punishment for all the misdeeds of our ancestors who had abandoned the Lord our God.
Welcome into the service of the Lord. It gets better, but not necessarily here on the planet. Which is why Our Lord taught us to pray,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
“As it is in heaven” because frankly it ain’t here. Saddle up people! We’ve got a long march ahead of us.