Saturday, February 21, 2004

A Curious Pastoral Parallel

For the last month or two, I have been interested in the Second World War, especially from the time of D-Day forward. But I have been interested for reasons than that of historical comprehension. I am starting to see a certain parallel between priesthood and the military. The first of these insights came watching the HBO series (on tape and DVD as it is a couple of years old now) "Band of Brothers." The series is faithfully based upon the book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose. I was caught wanting to be part of the company depicted, and this led to thoughts about why these feelings don't always come up concerning my brother priests. But that is for a longer article elsewhere.

The second parallel happened last night as I was reading Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers." Here is the comment that caught my eye. "About themselves, the most important thing a majority of the GIs discovered was that they were not cowards. They hadn't thought so, they had fervently hoped it would not be so, but they couldn't be sure until tested. After a few days in combat, most of them knew they were good soldiers. They had neither run away nor collapsed into a pathetic mass of Jell-O (their worst fear, even greater than being afraid)....They also learned that while combat brought out the best in some men, it unleashed the worst in others -- and a further lesson, that the distinction between the best and worst wasn't clear (Citizen Soldiers 46-47).

As a first time pastor, I understand this experience. I want to do well for the people of God, I want to meet or exceed the expectations of the Archbishop, mostly I want to do right by God. He gave me this vocation as a gift and a challenge and I don't want to short change Him. But like combat, there is a restless struggle at work in a parish, sometimes apparent and sometime not. That is the struggle between life and death, blessing and a curse, in short between God and our ancient enemy. And in combat, wounds are received. The wounds of pastoral ministry are psychic and interior.

But here is where the analogy falters, thankfully. For the soldier, the conflict ends, the rebuilding begins, and he knows that it might start again. The root cause is not gone. For the Christian, and for the pastor, he knows that Transfiguration is waiting. Resurrection breaks this cycle and the wounds of soul, mind, and body (in that order) are healed. In short, a pastor has to have HOPE. A soldier doesn't often have that luxury. He is just happy to come home intact.

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