Rod Dreher’s tribute to the Chaplain Corp has got online. He praises them for two reasons: First, for providing troops the assurance that, come what may, God will be there with them; if they don’t come back alive, that the sacrifice will have been worth it; and that there’s something better waiting for them on the other side. Second, for helping soldiers coping with stress and loneliness stay morally straight.
I am well aware of the need for this second. Theodore Dalrymple learned about the depravity of mankind from his work as a welfare and prison doctor, and from himself. I learned it from myself, too, and from my time in the Army. America’s now learning it from the Army also, via Abu Ghraib. The truth is that great hazards of war have always been as much spiritual as physical. The Nephite chronicler relates that the wars of Alma were marked by “murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the Nephites”; “many were softened because of their afflictions” but “many had become hardened.” Our saints who’ve served in modern wars often mention the loneliness that seeking virtue brought them. I believe it. I would have experienced the same or worse if I hadn’t gone through all my active-duty with several good brothers and priesthood holders (Holzhouser, Giulani, this is for you). There’s a lot of the lowest common-denominator in the military, a lot of home ties cut and habits broken.
Most of our saints who are soldiering don’t have that little band around them that I did. They go in hazard of their soul and I am in awe when I think they did it for love of country and in fear that some of them won’t make it. I and many have prayed for the success of our troops. Let us pray rather for the success of their virtue, for their own sakes, and for the sake of their cause, which can never make sure of divine favor but can too easily ensure divine wrath. Stay true, brothers. Repent oft.