Originally published on February 10, 2010.
Before I was a Catholic, yet seriously considering the idea of becoming one, my wife made a suggestion to me. My daughter was preparing for her First Communion and while the children were being prepared, there was someone speaking to the parents in the parish hall in the interim. My wife said he was a very good speaker and that I might enjoy what this person had to say. I was dubious, to say the least. She couldn’t remember his name (we were still new to the community) but she said he was a lay person who worked for the diocese in some capacity, and she spoke glowingly of his charm and his ability to speak in a way that held your interest.
She was right about him holding my interest, but it was a different guy who spoke on the Saturday when I attended. My speaker worked for the diocese all right, but he was a retired Marine Lt. Colonel. Marines understand each other. He was the head of the diocese Office of Justice and Peace (OJP).
After his talk, I went up and introduced myself. I was still pretty stand-offish, not quite sure about whether I was being called to “take the plunge” and join the Church. He had been an aviator, and I had been an ordnanceman responsible for loading, unloading, and maintaining weapons systems on A-4 Skyhawks and A-6 Intruders (that’s the Intruder below).
Marine pilots love their crews from all the shops that maintain their aircraft, but they really love their ordnancemen because, without us see, nothing goes BOOM. As Marine Corps aviators will tell you, their sole mission is to put ordnance on enemy targets, either on the ground, sea, or air. You can understand the affinity aviators and ordnancemen have for one another.
I shared with him that I had just retired as well, from an artillery battery where I had been the Ammo Chief, again responsible for supplying the ordnance, so things could go BOOM for the howitzers as well as small arms ammunition, grenades, flares, etc. Danger was my business. Was being the operative word.
As it turns out, the affinity torch was rekindled again because the OJP Chief had been in a Forward Air Controller capacity working with Marine Artillery units at one point in his career as well. Small world, small Marine Corps, and shared experiences. This was making for an easy conversation.
I didn’t want to take up anymore of his time, but I asked him again, What do you do for the diocese? My hearing isn’t what it used to be, and I thought he had said he was a Justice of the Peace or something. He chuckled at that and explained briefly that the Office of Justice and Peace is the office that works to plan and fulfill projects built around the Social Doctrines of the Catholic Church.
He handed me the handsome book in the photo above called the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It is 450 pages thick! I took it and thanked him and went home and told my wife what I’ve just told you.
She looked puzzled and eventually stopped me and asked me to describe what this guy looked like. I gave her my best guess on height, weight, and hair color, and she laughed and said, that isn’t the same guy she had heard. Interesting, she thought.
Do you want to know what I think? I think it was one of Webster’s minor miracles that the guy who I heard speak was one of my Marine brothers. Maybe it’s all just a big coincidence, but I have my doubts about that. Perhaps The Comforter provided me a messenger who would make me comfortable.
Below is a short section from the Compendium. This is timely in that it mirrors and deepens what I wrote about in my post thanking Anne Rice for her question. When I first read this section, it was a eureka moment. The puzzle pieces of life started fitting together and the call I felt to join the Church grew stronger. First the title of the section,
Christian salvation: for all people and the whole person
I’ve always liked the whole man concept. The Olympian ideal. The scholar-athlete. One who excels academically and physically.
The salvation offered in its fullness to men in Jesus Christ by God the Father’s initiative, and brought about and transmitted by the work of the Holy Spirit, is salvation for all people and of the whole person: it is universal and integral salvation. It concerns the human person in all his dimensions: personal and social, spiritual and corporeal, historical and transcendent.
As a male Christian, I had the sense that something, my warrior side, my soldier for Christ side, had been frowned upon. Christian men had an ideal, and it didn’t seem to be the whole man concept. Something seemed to need to be excised, or surgically removed from you. Or at least that is how it felt to me and that wasn’t appealing for obvious reasons. A change of heart? Of course. But here, the Compendium said the Church wants me, Christ wants me, in all my dimensions. Tell me more!
“It begins to be made a reality already in history, because what is created is good and willed by God, and because the Son of God became one of us” (Gaudium et Spes). Its completion, however, is in the future, when we shall be called, together with all creation (cf. Rom 8), to share in Christ’s resurrection and in the eternal communion of life with the Father in the joy of the Holy Spirit. This outlook shows quite clearly the error and deception of purely immanentistic visions of the meaning of history and in humanity’s claims to self-salvation.
Immanentistic is a mighty obscure word. I looked it up and found that it means any of several theories according to which God or an abstract mind or spirit pervades the world. Like New Age is Old Hat ideas? I get that. Continuing on,
The salvation offered by God to his children requires their free response and acceptance. It is in this that faith consists, and it is through this that “man freely commits his entire self to God”[Dei Verbum], responding to God’s prior and superabundant love (cf. 1 Jn 4:10) with concrete love for his brothers and sisters, and with steadfast hope because “he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). In fact, the divine plan of salvation does not consign human creatures to a state of mere passivity or of lesser status in relation to their Creator, because their relationship to God, whom Jesus Christ reveals to us and in whom he freely makes us sharers by the working of the Holy Spirit, is that of a child to its parent: the very relationship that Jesus lives with the Father (cf. Jn 15-17; Gal 4:6-7).
Yes! Like a child is to a parent. Abba, Father. This kept sounding better to me.
The universality and integrality of the salvation wrought by Christ makes indissoluble the link between the relationship that the person is called to have with God and the responsibility he has towards his neighbor in the concrete circumstances of history. This is sensed, though not always without some confusion or misunderstanding, in humanity’s universal quest for truth and meaning, and it becomes the cornerstone of God’s covenant with Israel, as attested by the tablets of the Law and the preaching of the Prophets.
Yeah, the bold is my emphasis. The big question of life.
This link finds a clear and precise expression in the teaching of Jesus Christ and is definitively confirmed by the supreme witness of the giving of his life, in obedience to the Father’s will and out of love for his brothers and sisters. To the scribe who asks him “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mk 12:28), Jesus answers: “The first is: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29-31).
The two greatest commandments on which the whole law hinges. These are not half-baked thoughts by any stretch of the imagination.
Inextricably linked in the human heart are the relationship with God — recognized as Creator and Father, the source and fulfilment of life and of salvation — and openness in concrete love towards man, who must be treated as another self, even if he is an enemy (cf. Mt 5:43-44). In man’s inner dimension are rooted, in the final analysis, the commitment to justice and solidarity, to the building up of a social, economic and political life that corresponds to God’s plan.
At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Admiral Nimitiz is reported to have said about the men who fought there that, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” These words from the Compendium are common sense for a confused world. And these thoughts were only from one page out of 450!
I’m glad the Colonel came to give his talk. Or maybe he was heaven sent. Marines take care of their own, you know and the Lord comes looking for His lost sheep.