Thank you, veterans.

The Three Soldiers StatueMarine Corps birthday yesterday, Veterans Day today.

If they are able to accept our thanks today veterans did not make the final sacrifice of their lives in defense of our freedoms, but while “some gave all, all gave some.”  Each veteran was altered by their service, physically and emotionally. Each gave something of himself that he couldn’t get back. It is for that self gift that we owe our thanks.

Our military men and women signed up for as many different reasons as there are stars in the sky: among them discipline, adventure, a sense of duty, the challenge, job training, money, or even just because they thought it would be a helluva good time. But every single one of them, even those who went in to be a desk jockey somewhere way behind the lines, implicitly signed up to put their person between each American and those who would do us harm.

We live in a dangerous world where live people who believe their greater good will happen when others are harmed and subjugated. These people are rightly opposed by those able and willing to stop them.

The Church has never opposed legitimate self-defense. She was pacifist while the state held her a criminal organization, but that period ended. And a significant factor in the Church’s development of Her just-war doctrine was the fast spread of Christianity among the Roman legion even before Constantine decriminalized Christianity. Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier, accepted martyrdom rather than deny his Lord during the persecution of Diocletian.

I submit that it spread through the ranks because of the rigorous, disciplined, martial spirit that is part of Christianity, coupled with the fact that the Lord of Christianity sacrficed himself for the sake of others—a level of dedication and devotion that appealed to the foot soldiers and centurions who were increasingly unimpressed and uninspired by the flaccid ethos of the disintegrating pagan culture.

That spirit that so inspired so many in the Roman legion still lives in Christianity. It inspired the recuperating Ignatius of Loyola to abandon the frivolous lifestyle of his youth without abandoning the discipline and rigor of his military training. The willingness to put one’s life on the line in defense of another is, obviously, a touchstone of our faith. “Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” Few in our military likely sign up intending to give the “last full measure of devotion;” that deep self-sacrificing love isn’t necessarily there at the start, but it develops. Whether the soldier’s ‘friends’ are his family, friends, sweetheart back home, or the brother to his left and to his right, that love lives on.

In recent years we have only to look at the roll of names of those who have received the Medal of Honor: men who put themselves on the line to protect their fellow soldiers. That is that greater love.

Our veterans have that love deep in their heart, even if they’re too manly to admit it. Take a moment to thank a veteran today for the love they’ve shown and the sacrifices they have made.

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