Spirit and Life
At the Fourth of July parade two years ago, when my firstborn, Matthew, was 16 years old, a group of punky-looking teenagers came and sat behind us. They seemed to have come just to hang out and rabble-rouse.
Matt became so irked when they failed to stand as the flag passed by that he turned around and brusquely told them to stand up. Surprisingly, they did. Matt turned back to continue honoring the flag.
This Fourth of July, Matt will again honor the flag, but in an even more committed way. Since the beginning of May, he's been in training at Fort Benning, Ga., with the Army National Guard Reserves. We hope he'll return at the end of August, providing he recovers by then from the serious knee injury he recently sustained. We're told to expect that, soon, he'll be shipped out for a one-year tour of duty overseas — likely to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Before he left, Matt told me something I'll never forget. “The first thing they taught us,” he said, “is that we're soldiers for peace, not war.” His mission is to stop or prevent conflict, not to cause it. Unfortunately, weapons are sometimes necessary to secure that objective, he explained.
His letters home repeatedly request prayers for him and all the U.S. military men and women throughout the world. The responsibility of being soldiers for peace is a huge one in and of itself. Add to that the moral decay of our society that, as we know all too well from recent headlines, sometimes only intensifies in the military atmosphere.
“It is already a raging battle here, and most of us are months away from combat,” he wrote. “The military is in dire need of prayers and graces. Let people know of that need.”
Those were difficult words to read. I'm unabashedly proud of Matt and his decision to serve his country, but my heart grieves over his absence and my mind is preoccupied with his safety — body, mind and soul.
I find consolation in prayer. Every time I look at a picture or statue of the Blessed Mother, I ask her to imprint her image upon the mind and heart of my son, wrapping him tightly in her protective mantle. I know she'll mediate the graces Matt needs to fulfill his God-given mission. During every Mass — every spiritual or actual Communion, every rosary, every holy hour, every prayer or devotion of any kind — I hold Matt steady in my heart and place him in the presence of Our Lord.
“Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him,” David says in Psalm 91. “I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honor him, and show him my salvation.”
I know Matt cleaves to his Lord in love. Even in the sometimes morally impoverished and chaotic military life God has called him to, he will continue to defend his faith and uphold his mission of peace. There's nothing I can do to physically help him carry out that mission. Perhaps there is nothing I should do. He is a young man capable of finding his own way. But I can support him by praying in a way that only a mother can.
During this Fourth of July parade, I'll honor the flag with a greater sense of personal investment in what it stands for than I ever did before. And, as the military color guards pass, I won't see a group of anonymous soldiers marching in formation. I'll see the face of my son carrying on his mission as a soldier for peace.
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.
- July 4-10, 2004