The Priest is a Soldier in the Army of the Lord

Some years ago I was in college,  majoring in computer science, and dating a beautiful young woman. An older priest, Msgr. Curlin told me that he thought I was called to be a priest. I was puzzled as to how to react. No one had ever said this to me before. So I asked him if he’d like to meet my girlfriend. He was unfazed and told me stories of other men, now priests, who had said the same. In some ways he spoke like a military recruiter: “The Church needs good men, Chuck. God needs good, strong men.”

I was surprised to hear a priest speak this way. I was born in 1961 but came of age in the Church of the 1970s. It was a time of crossless Christianity. Crosses had literally been removed from my parish church and replaced by a “resurrection Jesus.” Notions of sacrifice and fighting against sin had largely been replaced by a kind of “God is Love, self-acceptance” emphasis.  It was a time of “beige Catholicism” which  demanded little and saw its main task to be as non-offensive as possible.

As a young man, none of this appealed much to me. I think most young men are “up for a battle.” They want to change the world or at least make a key difference. Now suddenly a priest was summoning me to manhood and to something sacrificial, something that would take a “strong” man. And my services were needed, God and the Church depended on men like me saying yes. Imagine that!

I didn’t say yes that day. I continued to date and worked toward finishing my Computer Science Degree. But I had heard a summons to a great battle, the ancient battle between Christ and our adversary the Devil. And the call grew. For various reasons my steady girl and I broke up. Saddened though I was, I saw an opened door before me and the call quickened. I walked through and began a process of discernment with the Archdiocese that led to my Ordination to the Priesthood in 1989.

I suppose there are many ways of seeing my priesthood. But most powerfully I see myself as a soldier in the army of the Lord. The battle today is fierce. We live in a world increasingly hostile to our holy faith and the teachings of the Church. And the call must go out as never before: The Church needs good men to be priests, strong and courageous. Men who will speak the truth in love, clearly and without compromise and celebrate the sacraments with devotion and faith. Men who know that the eternal salvation of many is dependent  on them being zealous priests after God’s own heart. Men who by the grace of God are willing to fight for souls in the battle that matters most.

So there it is men. The Lord is looking for good men to engage the great battle for souls. And there’s an old saying, “If you find a good fight…get in it!”

This article was originally written for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese and appears in today’s print edition. The Website for the Catholic Standard is very good, lots of current articles and good links too. In case you haven’t visited check it out:  Catholic Standard Online

Vocations for Men: Msgr. Rob Panke 301-853-4580

Here’s a video I stitched together with scenes from Fishers of Men and set to Lyle Lovett’s “I’m A Soldier in the Army of the Lord”

35 Replies to “The Priest is a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”

  1. Keep on speaking to men, Msgr. Pope. We need to hear more manly talk from Godly men. Up for the battle, indeed.

  2. I do like your blog. You have a talent, so well done for pushing yourself to use it. I think your use of Youtube has been great. We ought to be using this clip in schools. So much of what is taught in schools these days is about reading and writing with a only a peppering of as you describe beige. We need to be always striving for and focussing on the light but not being blinkered into thinking that it isnt a daily battle against darkness. This is something which perhaps highlights the need for education in spiritual warfare and being serious about it.

  3. Msgr. Pope,

    Nice to see you reference Msgr. Curlin, a very good pastor of souls. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and have always been impressed by His Grace.
    What you say about the Church in the 70’s was true for the Church in the 80’s, that is when I came of age in the Church. The “God is Love, self-acceptance” emphasis was in full swing, couple that with what I’ll term as a emasculation of the Priesthood. Like you, none of this appealed to me – although I accepted it and practiced my faith.
    What lit a fire under me was the ancient Liturgy, it was serious, reverent, and beautiful. The role of the priest was although a humble one in the fact that he followed the rubrics exclusively and to the letter, was an exalted one because he alone said the Mass and administered the Blessed Sacrament. To me the exclusivity of the role of the priest in the Liturgy, placed more importance (and rightly so) on the Priesthood of the Ordained and less on the Priesthood of the Faithfull. Today in many places Mass is a celebration of community and of themselves rather than the representation of Calvary. In this environment the role of the priest is lost amid a sea of lay lectors, Eucharistic ministers, choirs in the sanctuary and etc. This is one of the reasons why we have had a vocations crisis for so long. I think the restoration of the ancient Liturgy is signaling a restoration in the Priesthood. And yes a priest is a soldier in the army of the Lord, no doubt about it!

    1. Yes, I owe a lot to Bishop Curlin.

      I am glad you found encouragement in the ancient liturgy. I am aware that not all share a love for it but I am glad that the diversity is now allowed so that those who do are able to celebrate and expereince its wonders. In recent years in the ordinary form I think the role of lay people in the liturgy has been clarified. Back in the 80s there really were many abuses (laypersons preaching, priest seated while lay people dist. communion etc.) but little by little we’ve begun to get things right there too. Hence the distinctive roles of the clergy and lay people can be more properly clarified.

  4. This is certainly a silly response in that it doesn’t pertain to the content of our post at all; rather, it’s about the semantics of words, the intrigue in writing, which I think you do very well, and the amazing brain we are all created with. I try to read your posts daily – I find them insightful, thought provoking, educational, engaging, and the list of compliments goes on (go ahead Msgr., puff your chest out a bit and hold that head high, you deserve a warm fuzzy to start your day!)

    I got a chuckle out of the wiring in my brain, of how the simple choice of a word can influences one’s thinking and the tone of an article. You opened your post with “Some years ago….” At first, I didn’t make anything of it and continued to read on. When I read the year you were born, 1961, I found myself thinking, “Wow, he’s a year younger than me, I need to lighten up a little when I think back to my college days. I didn’t go to college eons ago, or back in the days when we cranked our cars up to start them, I went to college a mere “some years ago.” I felt, shall I say, youthful and connected to the world, as if I do truly belong here. Thanks Msgr. Your innocuous word choice made my day!

    This probably hit me b/c I’ve been feeling a bit like a moron lately. I just began an on-line graduate school program. The book part is on-line while the clinical component will take place out in the field with a preceptor. Now, I didn’t think I was totally disconnected with society and its technology, but I’ll tell you, I’m feeling a wee bit old and insecure, like I’ve become an alien in a new world. Getting acquainted with on-line technology as a means of education is, shall I say, interesting, to say the least. I’m thanking God that two of my college aged kids have a long winter break and are bunkering down at home. We’ve had a few good laughs, and I’m sure there’s a few more on the horizon as I get myself set up with the necessary computer technology.

    So Msgr., the long and the short of my comment is that you made my day, in a way you probably never in a million years thought about or intended. A lesson for us all to remember is that its not always what we say that is important, its how we say it. God is smart. I do believe somebody, somewhere knew that your underlying talents in writing, preaching and integrating the two into the newer, “techie” form of teaching would serve the public well. Kudos – have a great day!

  5. As bad as things are today, I think it was more difficult for you to make the decision that it would be today. There are terrific opportunities out there right now, and if I were younger and not married with children, I might well go the route you thankfully took.

      1. Yes, I think we’re doing a lot better at helping young men find their way to the priesthood. Vocations just weren’t often encouraged in my mid 1970s parish.

  6. A video you “stiched together”? Was that as casual as it sounds? If so, I won’t say you missed your calling but you certainly seem to have several “talents” at your disposal.

  7. You really do make good videos. Your’e a Marine in the army of the Lord. Gung ho.

  8. Bless you! As a mother of a son who, I think, has a vocation, I can show him that video and say the priesthood isn’t for limp-wristed wusses. Really, Father, (can I say that a BUNCH of times?) I cried when I saw the priest blessing a young man in his prison cell. 80% of those young men are being raised by single-mothers – the absence of fathers is killing our country. Love the video – what a happy, dedicated, good-lookin’ bunch of guys. We need more guys in the priesthood – thanks, Father, for making the point!

  9. Good day Monsignor. I am thankful to God that He used our school chaplain for my spiritual awakening. He has a profound influence in my life. At present when I open my computer, I see to it that I read first the catholic news and look for your article. My day is not complete if I did not read your teachings. Best wishes to you Monsignor.

  10. Some people say I ought to be a priest, but I don’t feel called to the priesthood. Besides, I’m a terrible person and a wretched sinner. I know God can support me, but I don’t feel called to be a priest. I don’t know what He wants of me – maybe a father, maybe a brother, maybe a single layperson – but I pray His Will be done.

    1. Well remember Nick, God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. DOn’t forget about St. Augustine and St. Paul. They were among the ranks of priests, but also as St Paul puts it, “the Chief of Sinners!”Hopefully there is someone you can do some discerning with. I would encourage you to seek a priest you might feel comfortable and talk with him somewhat about this.

  11. Msgr. Pope: I read your blog entry in the print edition of the Catholic Standard, and felt I had to reply. Like you, I was born in 1961, so I suppose we grew up and came of age in the same decades, influenced by many of the same social, cultural, and ecclesial realities. Like you, I am a priest, having been ordained in 1987. Unlike you, however, I find your militaristic and pugilistic imagery not only off-putting, but bordering on un-Christian. Did we not just celebrate the birth of the “Prince of Peace,” and did not Jesus teach us to “love your enemies,” and to “turn the other cheek”?

    As I was thinking and praying earlier today about the subject of my homily for this weekend’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, my focus was on what our Catholic theology has to say about the fundamental meaning of Baptism. Baptism — even more so than being “washed clean” or “freed from original sin” — is about our own “dying and rising” with Christ. To die — to sin, to self, to the world, to all those things that keep us from God — this is the essence of Christianity and following Jesus. To die means letting go, not duking it out! As far as I can see, there is no “soldiering” on the way of the Cross, no “battlefront” on the way to Calvary. The actions of Jesus’ ministry on earth were acts of healing, forgiveness, sharing, comforting — not the kinds of things one learns in boot camp!

    And for Nick: I don’t know what makes you say you’re a terrible person and a “wretched sinner.” But you should know that whatever it is, we are all right there with you! God’s love and forgiveness are bigger than anything any of us could ever do. Find a good, compassionate priest; celebrate God’s forgiveness in Reconciliation, and learn also to forgive yourself. I’ll keep you in prayer and also pray you will come to see God’s will for you and your life!


    1. It’s kinda humorous reading your post. At one level you clearly eschew the military imagery and think we should use more peaceful imagery but at the same time your seemingly hostile tone comes off as strangely inconsonant with your intent. Alas, Father, I was born in military family, both my brothers are military officers. To me military imagery evokes things like discipline, honor, duty, self-sacrifice, laying down ones life for one’s firiends, obedience, authority, chain of command, and the like. Christian tradition is rich with military themes. One of the great hymns for the martyrs is “Deus Tuorum Militum” (Oh God of thy soliders). The beautiful hymn “For all the saints has this line: “And when the strife is firece, the warfare long, steals on the ear a distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong! Alleluia.” Another line says “The golden evening brightens in the west, soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest….” THe Proestant tradition also features songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “I am On the Battlefield for my Lord.” When Pope Benedict recently visited the White House the Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung and that hymn is in almost every Catholic Hymnal.

      So anyway Father, make room for some of us in the Church and in your heart. I suspect we’re not “bordering on anti-Christian” as you suggest just tapping into a long Christian tradition.

    2. Tim — (I would prefer to have said “Fr. Tim” since you say that you are a priest, but oddly enough, you do not call yourself Fr. Tim, so I will defer to your usage) —

      Let me guess, your parish does not say the Prayer to St. Michael after Mass, does it? You surprise me, though, with your assertion that the need to “do battle” is “bordering on un-Christian.” Surely you know what Msgr. Pope means by that?

      And certainly you know that the faithful here in the world have long been called the “Church Militant,” not to mention that the Prince of Peace expressly said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” (Mt. 10:34). Many other “militant” examples of the Faith abound.

      Now, of course, by these militaristic references the Church has not meant it in the literal sense, as in the case of the followers of Mohammed (who did spread the Muslim faith by the sword). Rather, the militancy is meant in the sense of doing battle against evil, and against the Father of Lies, specifically. Surely, you do not suggest that we make peace with evil, do you? That certainly is not the way that God has handled it. Surely, you do not suggest that we make peace with sin? Or make peace with death, that is, eternal death?

      All of these are things to be fought against. All are things to engage in battle against. And when Christ or the Church or the Faith generally are attacked, we are called upon to defend them, not meekly acquiesce.

    3. I’m always surprised when vigorous defenders of the faith are maligned thus. I am telling everyone I know about Monsignor Pope and his wonderful blog – his words fill in a lot of the gaps that exist in my spiritual world because of priests who don’t seem to get it.

      As always, I agree with everything Bender said, with one exception: Fr. Tim, do you have any idea how off-putting it is for a priest to use his first name without prefacing it with Father? There are those of us – and I was born in 1960 so I’m not an old lady – who would still prefer to call priests Father-Last-Name. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone here say ‘Monsignor Charles,’ even though Monsignor is very genial and were I in his parish I have no doubt we would be friends. The clergy have such an important role in our salvation and to diminish the collar by just acting like any other Joe is just flat-out wrong. I don’t want to call my priest by his first name. I don’t want to call my physician by his first name. I wouldn’t even call my attorney by his first name if I had one – people set above, people with license deserve and should insist on this most elemental form of respect.

      Ooo. Sorry, Monsignor, for the rant.:-)

  12. Priests and medical people tend to have much in common. We work long hours for the good of other people, and the job is not so much a job as it is a lifestyle. We are never completely on vacation or away from the job. We often have to tell people things that they may not want to hear.

    I am grateful for all the priests I know, because they are not only dear friends, but people who can understand what it’s like to give up parts of your life to help others, the struggles and amazing things about it, and getting the privilege to see life and death. I always remember that while a priest is in the image of Christ, they are people too. People with struggles and triumphs like me and other people.

    Thank you and God Bless you for all that you do Monsignor. I am grateful that you write the blog, and offer so much personal insight on today’s world. While I am not a member of your church, I am quite sure your parishioners are extremely blessed to have you as pastor!

  13. Now, now, let’s not beat Fr. Tim up, afterall, he is entitled to his opinion, and he is entitled to call himself Tim if he wants to, is he not? Being a priest must be tough – you’re one of us, but you’re really not. I know plenty of people that have all sorts of letters before and after their name and when they introduce their self (or is it themselves?), they use only their first name. Personally, I could never call a priest by his first name only – the Fr. needs to be there, but…… life happens, and there are many times when I’m not so sure I understand what’s happening. I guess I just don’t get that hung up when people offer their opinion. I’ve learned that they even sometimes have a valid point that I can learn from. And, Isn’t this blog supposed to invite people’s thoughts? I mean, do we have to agree with everything Msgr. says in order to not be chastised? Maybe Fr. Tim simply didn’t interpret Msgr.’s post with the tone Msgr. intended. Life happens – and not always as we predict or desire. What’s so wrong with responding to Fr. Tim’s comment with a simple, open ended, “Hmmmmm….. interesting thought Tim, or Fr. Tim, depending on what you’re comfortable with. Thanks for sharing.”

    I think one of the risks we run with blogging, IM’s, TM’s is that we loose the subtle cues that body language, posture, clothing, hair style, voice intonation, etc. provide. Maybe Fr. Tim is more serious with his interpretation of life. Don’t we need all sorts of opinions and thoughts to keep the world interesting?

  14. I always been taught that Priest were Servants….Jesus told Pilate that his Kingdome was not of this WORLD…..that if his Kingdome were from here, an Army of ANGELS………ANGELS would it come to Free him.

    Then again, that was what I was Taught, and had read in a BOOK……..(THE BIBLE).

  15. I guess St. Paul was in one of his un-Christian moods when he wrote Ephesians 6. When I was a kid, I always liked that passage — enumeration, symbolism, and chivalry: appealing even to young ones.

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