This is the seventh post of ten for my #TenSaintsTenDays series, counting down from the Feast of All Saints to Veterans Day, when Centurions Guild is launching the 2016 Armistice Appeal. Check back in every day until November 11th for a new saint, their story, and a prayer to guide us into the way of peace.
John Vianney – Patron of Priests (and War Protesters)
If some wars are just, then some are not, and theological tradition demands that Christians refuse to fight in those wars which are unjust. Christian and non-Christian soldiers alike, however, are denied the right of objecting to particular wars. The living, responsive internal voice of God that the Catholic catechism calls a person’s moral conscience does not enjoy legal recognition, and the duty to refuse unlawful orders is hardly specified by military law. Unless one has a predetermined opinion of war, the choice becomes quite stark; absolute pacifism on the one hand, or ambiguously defined but stringently enforced obedience on the other. Those who insist on appraising the morality of wars as they occur in their own context and who find against the cases made by their countries will often be labeled cowardly, be forced to relocate, or go into hiding.
Such was the case for John Vianney, a French seminarian drafted into Napoleon’s army in 1809. Marched toward the front, he fell ill and found his cohort had continued on without him before he could recover. Unsure how to proceed and not favorable toward the emperor, he prayed to God for direction; should he continue to the front, or abandon his post? He left it to God, hoping the chips would fall as they may, and he was picked up by another group within days. Instead of heading toward the mass of troops in Spain, they took him to a town of deserters, where he assumed a false name and organized a school for children. After the war, an imperial decree provided amnesty for deserters like John, so he became a priest as he had set out to do before being conscripted. Over the next several decades, he would become the most noteworthy confessor in all of Europe and to this day he is patron of all priests and pastors.
There are countless Americans who took refuge in Canada when their conscience told them that they should not fight in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, or elsewhere. Their moral clarity cost them reputations, relationships, and much more. Many of them were rejected not just by American culture at large, but also by their own priests, who often pontificated about the justice of a war in abstract terms with no real skin in the game, so to speak. “Draft dodgers” and deserters are accused of loving their own lives more than they love their country or their way of life. But the fear that overwhelms on the battle field is of killing, not dying. The challenge is to love not just our countrymen, but our enemies as well, for only those who can love the people they have seen and have hated can love God, who they have not seen, and to whom we all have been hated enemies. John would have been accused in our day of no less than desertion and dereliction, but we must ask to whom he would be derelict and whether that thing must be rejected at times in obeying God rather than it. After all, more often than not Jesus has us follow him away from what we know and love toward the One capable of truly loving us back. John knew as much, and his prayer helps us remember where our love must be directed. His feast is celebrated August 4th.
I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you than live without you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally. My God, if my tongue cannot say it in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw each breath. Amen.
Follow me on Twitter to get updates each day as the series unfolds, or start by reading the series intro. Learn about John and more than 45 other #SoldierSaints in my book For God and Country [in that order], © 2013 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Va. Prayer reprinted by permission.
Are you, or do you know, a #SoldierSaint wrestling between faith and service? Get in touch through my connect page!