Friday, January 22, 2010

"Bless me, Father, .... "


"... for I have sinned."

It has been far too long since I have been to Confession....

Father, this is kind of hard to explain.... you see, about ten years ago, I was stationed in Bosnia as a peacekeeper. I lived in a US base near Tuzla and drove around the back roads of the northern part of the country helping to keep the Croats, Muslims and Serbs from restaring the war of 1995.

Well, my sin is possibly one of blasphemy. Or at the very least, idolatry.

Everywhere we went, every hour of every day, we were required to wear a little plastic bag around our necks. In the plastic bag went our SFOR ("Stabilization Force") ID cards, and our military ID's. The point was that we were supposed to be able to identify one another on sight.

Well, we were far away from home. And we were very frightened of being in a hostile country where one wrong step could set off a land mine.

So, as soldiers do in hostile territory--we called it "Indian Country", very un-PC of us--we turned to religious observation to invoke the help of God Almighty to protect us.

Many of us, being Protestants, started carrying and reading one of the many freely available Gideon Bibles. Those of Jewish background suddenly discovered the Sabbath prayers and avoiding pork. And we Catholics turned to our traditional standbys of holy objects, rosaries, and other "sacramentals." These went into our little plastic ID pouches.

Shortly after I arrived, a woman friend of mine gave me something particularly special: it was a bit of the Sacrament--the Host, "Holy Communion", the Consecrated Body of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ--which she had bought from a street seller in Croatia. It was a tiny bit of Communion host embedded in a tiny plastic case.

"I'm not Catholic, I'm Jewish," she explained. "But I understand well how sacred this is to you and I thought it was evil that some guy was selling this like it was a hot dog on the street. So I bought them all and I've been making a point of giving them to my Catholic friends."

Now, I am sure that, were this actually consecrated, it would be the grossest blasphemy to have this on (rather than within) my person. The Host is a Sacrament, not a mere sacramental, and this meant that every time I sinned, from swearing up to whatever, I was doing so in His direct Presence.

And yet... and yet... it was an enormous comfort in times of danger. And while there was nobody shooting at us, there was plenty of danger in Bosnia. (Ever walk in a minefield? Ever see an open mass grave? Ever fly a helicopter blind in fog in the mountains? No? I have. I don't recommend it.)

There were times I might well have lost my cool and cried like a child without the ability to hold that thing in my hand when I was in deepest fear.

Shortly before I left the country for good, I gave it away to another soldier, who, I trust, gave it to another, .... and so on.

My conscience is pricked because I read about an artificial kerfluffle being sounded in certain quarters concerning the fact that some sniper rifle sights have been engraved with Biblical references--and that same has been decried by the soi-disant "Military Religious Freedom Foundation".

Now, having inappropriate markings on combat rifles can be a bad thing. I remember the legend (don't know if it's true) about how the shoulder stocks of the first M-16 rifles were marked with the corporate logo of their manufacturer.... Mattel.

Plus, I seem to recall the problems arising when the Reagan administration wanted to name a nuclear wessel* after Corpus Christi, TX.

Be that as it may, I must say that in a technical sense, those objecting to Bible citations on rifle sights are right, sort of. It is not a good idea to put references to the words of Jesus Christ onto an instrument of instant death. I, for one, might worry about being on the receiving end of a lightning strike. (And I *certainly* would not want to name a Final Counterstrike mechanism after the Body of Christ.)

More importantly, I am sure that putting bible references on a sniper scope would give some Constitutional lawyers a bad case of the vapors. ("We can't do that! Cuz... cuz... cuz we can't!")

On the other hand, I recall that a few years ago, America cheered at the hard-core-fundamentalist-bible-quoting U.S. Army infantry sniper named Daniel Jackson, played by Barry Pepper, who prayed "Blessed be the Lord Our God, who teacheth my fingers to fight, and my hands to war," immediately before using his U.S. Army issued sniper sight to kill Nazis.

"We sleep safe at night because rough men stand ready at night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." And some of those men are deeply committed (if, arguably, theologically shallow) Christians, who battle in the face of an implacable enemy who would, indeed, do us, and him, immeasurable harm if they could.

And these men (and women) need all the help they can get.

Anyway, if there is any truth to the Catholic faith, I am sure that carrying the Body of My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on my person for two years in a war zone is far more blasphemous than carrying a sniper rifle with "code words."

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee.... if indeed I have.

And I must admit that I am sorriest that I am not really very sorry at all. It was a comfort to have You with me.


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*That's not misspelled, that's Chekov. ("Where are the nuclear wessels?")

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