A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
On The Faith, Hope, and Love of Military Service: A Soldier’s Reflection
November 12, 2018
My time in service as an Army Officer is best characterized by three simple words. They are faith, hope, and love.
Here when I use faith, I am not only referring to religious faith; though, that is one of the most important uses of the word. My faith in God is the starting point for everything I do, and also the end. All things begin and end in Him. However, when I use faith to characterize my service to the nation, I am referring to the foundation of trust that lies at the heart of the American military tradition.
When I took the oath of office as an Army Officer, I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same. When I accepted promotion to Major, I heard it read that the President of the United States, the duly elected representative of the people, reposed special trust and confidence in my patriotism, valor, and fidelity. I heard this also when I was promoted to Captain, the rank before Major, and Lieutenant, the rank that preceded Captain. I hear this every time someone is promoted to their next rank. Faith and trust forms the foundation of the Army ethic and it defines the nature of our service to the people. I have faith in the American people and they have faith in me.
When I say my time in service as an Army Officer is characterized by hope, I do not only mean the theological virtue of hope; though, that is one of the most important and real uses of the word. The Blessed hope in Christ Jesus is the very start and end of every thought we should have and deed we should do. In him, we live and move and have our being, Saint Paul writes. Elsewhere the Apostle adds we should take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. Yet when we hear “hope”, we think “luck.” Not long ago, the mega million jackpot reached into the billion dollar range and there were a lot of people who bought lottery tickets hoping to win. But this is not the same hope I mean when I say my time in service is characterized by hope. Certainly it is not what the Church means by hope. The Church’s blessed hope is real. It is not luck.
We know the blessed hope is real because the saving work of Christ Jesus is already accomplished in one of God’s creatures – his Blessed Mother, our sweet Mary. Bodily assumed into heaven, she gives us good reason to hope. In the same way, to a lesser extent, but still important, every day I hope to be a good man. I hope to be a good father. I hope to be a good husband to my wife. I hope to be a good servant to the American People. I hope for these realities not because I think I may get lucky and will win them like a lottery jackpot. Rather, it is because I know that with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can be a good man, a good father, a good husband, and a good soldier. There are already many examples of very good men and women, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, and soldiers already accomplished, especially among the saints. So I place my hope in something real and achievable. With their help and intercession, I hope our destiny is to be together in heaven.
Finally, when I say my time in service as an Army Officer can be characterized by love, I am not only referring to agape love, the God-like love, the theological virtue of love. True, this is perhaps the strongest possible use of the word love, mainly because Jesus himself commanded that we must love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When I use love here, what I mean is leadership. Army service is known for exemplary leadership, and leadership, to me at least, is best known for its sacrifices. Therefore, and I mean to be taken quite seriously when I say this, leadership is love. Of course this sounds strange to us because we use love in so many different ways. For instance, I love jumping into a pile of freshly raked autumn leaves. I love sunrises and I love sleeping in – though I cannot decide which of these two I love more since I can’t enjoy both at the same time. I love ice cream. I love making my kids laugh. I love my wife. The danger in using love so loosely is we end up diluting love to be nothing more than a really nice feeling. However, love is more than just a really nice feeling. Love is a commandment.
Leadership is love because love is a sacrifice. We need not look any further for evidence of this than the sacrifice of our beloved Lord dying on the cross out of love, to lead us back into himself. No greater act of love, he tells us, than for one to lay down their life for his friends. If my time-honored profession has taught me any good lesson worth sharing, it is in recognizing the depth of love reached by the men and women of my service who have offered the fullest measure of devotion to love by sacrificing their life for their fellow brothers and sisters in arms. Their example leads others to follow.
I have learned that if you want to be a good leader, first, you must love. My best advice to grow in your capacity to love is to put yourself at risk, to sacrifice. Advance others ahead of yourself. Defend the weak, especially the most vulnerable, such as the unborn. Be their voice. Do your job quietly, but with confidence and great joy. Be the face of Christ. Recommend others for honors before yourself. Be humble. Avoid wrongdoing in public and private life. And when you do wrong, as certain as you are human, go to confession and seek forgiveness from those who you have injured.
When I say my time in service as an Army Officer is best characterized by three simple words – faith, hope, and love – I really do mean an experience quite real, as real as the God who is. Pray for me, as I will for you, that we both may grow together in these three great virtues. For an increase in faith. For an increase in hope. For an increase in the greatest of these, love.
Matthew D. Pride is an U.S. Army active duty officer assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth Kansas, where he earned a Masters of Military Arts and Science in Strategic Studies. His thesis work was on Just War Theory. In 2012, he earned a Masters of Science from the University of Missouri Science & Technology in Engineering Management. In 2006, Matt graduated from the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York. He is married to his wife of 12 years, Christina, and together they have four children.
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