Soldiers are brave, courageous, tested, tough, eager to serve, and loyal to a code. They are a lot like Christians.
We should always commemorate those who fought for our freedom, who gave their lives (either completely or in total service) so that we might break free from the chains of those who wish to rule us against our will and with wrongful authority, or dominate us.
In our Catholic faith, many of our great saints have done the same throughout the centuries for their own countries. Here are six of them.
1. St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Ignatius joined the army at age seventeen, mostly looking for glory, and dueled many people in his search for glory. He once dueled a Moor who denied the divinity of Christ and ran him through! He took up arms for a duke who recognized his diplomacy and leadership skills and who trained and led him through many battles without injury. But in 1521, when he was 30 years old, he was wounded at a battle at Pamplona when a canonball broke one of his legs and injured the other. He was taken back to the castle he was born in and underwent many surgeries. While he was recovering from his injuries, he read numerous texts on the life of Christ and on the lives of the saints and this is when his true conversion began. A year later, at the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria Montserrat, he hung up his military garments before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and decided to become a solider for the Catholic Faith. Later, he founded the Society of Jesus with seven companions, six of whom he met at the University of Paris while studying there, including St. Francis Xavier.
2. St. Joan of Arc
St. Joan of Arc was born in the midst of the Hundred Years War. At this time, the English had control of Reims, which was the traditional coronation site for French kings. St. Joan started seeing visions of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret when she was about 13 years old and they told her to drive the English out of France and bring the Dauphin (eldest son of the King of France, heir to the throne, waiting to be crowned) back to Reims. After some troubles, she joined the army and gave war counsel. Joan was present at the lifting of the siege of Orleans, a battle she fought in, and was wounded by an arrow to her shoulder; this lifting of the siege was taken by many as the sign Joan promised and that she was truly inspired by God. Under St. Joan’s counsel, the French also took back Reims and Paris. After a short truce between the French and English, St. Joan was captured and put on trial for heresy and cross-dressing. The trial was largely suspect and many documents and testimony were falsified; nevertheless, Joan was sentenced to death. Her most famous quote from the trial came about when she was asked a trick question: if she knew whether she was in God’s grace. Church doctrine holds that no one can absolutely be certain of being in God’s grace, so a “yes” from her would’ve made her a heretic and a “no” would’ve confirmed her guilt. St. Joan said in answer, “If I am not, may God put me there; if I am, may God so keep me.” St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake while two priests held crucifixes in front of her with another at the front of her dress. After the burning, the English raked back the coals to expose her body and show that she could not have escaped alive; they then burned her body twice more so that no relics could be taken. After St. Joan of Arc’s death, the Hundred Years War went on for 22 more years until the English finally and completely withdrew from France. A retrial was also held and found Joan innocent of all charges.
3. St. Sebastian
According to tradition, St. Sebastian entered the Roman army to assist Christian martyrs and kept his faith a secret so that Diocletian the Emperor would not find out. He was very courageous and rose quickly, being made a captain in the Praetorian Guards. Sebastian is said to have converted about 16 people while a captain. Eventually, Diocletian found out that St. Sebastian was a Christian and had him shot full of arrows and left for dead for his “betrayal”. However, a widow found him alive when she went to retrieve his body and nursed him back to health. St. Sebastian then went in search of Diocletian and loudly criticized him for his persecution and mistreatment of Christians. Diocletian was initially surprised- he thought Sebastian was dead!- but recovered and had St. Sebastian beaten to death with clubs and his body thrown in the common sewer; his body was later removed and buried in the catacombs. St. Sebastian is the patron saint of soldiers (kind of obvious), athletes, and those who desire a saintly death.
4. St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi was born to a pious mother and a merchant father who was in love with wealth and good standing among powerful people and Francis fulfilled all of his father’s hopes and dreams for him- he was well-liked, a good leader, a good businessman, and even fell in love with France as his father had! He regularly led a group of young men who would attend wild parties and participate in lascivious ways of living. But Francis wanted more. He didn’t want just wealth but also glory. Francis then joined the army, wanting to become a great and noble knight, and got his first shot at glory when Assisi declared war on Perugia- but he was captured! After he returned to Assisi, his thirst for glory did not cease and so he decided to take up arms in the Fourth Crusade, but he never got further than a day’s ride from Assisi. St. Francis had a dream in which God told him to return to Assisi and so he did. He was humiliated! The townspeople called him a coward and laughed at him and his father was infuriated with him for wasting his money on armor. This began St. Francis’s slow conversion and led him to find that the only glory truly worth attaining was the of the glory of God.
5. St. George
St. George was born to Christian parents and later joined the army of Diocletian and eventually became an imperial guard for the Emperor. Diocletian ordered that all Christians the army passed should be arrested and that the soldiers should make sacrifices to the Roman gods. George refused to abide by this order and then professed his Christian beliefs before the other soldiers. Diocletian attempted to convert St. George to the Roman gods, because he had been good friends with George’s father, making him many offers of lands, titles, and wealth, but George refused. Finally, Diocletian had St. George tortured and executed, being lacerated on a wheel of swords and finally decapitated. In preparation for his death, St. George gave all his money away to the poor. The tale of St. George and the dragon is largely a legend but can be interpreted to mean St. George fought against the devil (depicted as the dragon) to save and convert others to Christianity (the maiden often seen in paintings represents this and is also said to represent the wife of Diocletian, Empress Alexandria) and thus also depicts his martyrdom.
6. St. Thomas a Beckett
St. Thomas was born to good parents in England and was treated to the finest education and also had a taste for the very fine things in life. He was a cleric and once was sent to France to negotiate a royal marriage- the French gaped in wonder at his wealth and lavish gifts and thought that if this man was merely the king’s chancellor, the king must be even more lavish! King Henry raised an army of mercenaries to take back the French province of Toulouse, which belonged to the inheritance of his wife, and St. Thomas fought in this war, bringing 700 of his own men. St. Thomas Becket wore armor like the other fighting men, led assaults, and engaged in single combat. He was once rebuked by another churchman but shook it off humorously. When the Archbishop died, King Henry told Thomas of his intention to make St. Thomas the next primate. St. Thomas told the king that if he did so, Thomas would fall out of favor with the king; this turned out to be true as St. Thomas stood against the King’s abuse of power over Church and State. St. Thomas a Becket was martyred by four knights while praying vespers in the cathedral, who cut off the top of his head so deeply that his brains and blood split out, covering the altar stairs where St. Thomas finally lay prostrate and lifeless.
Some of these men initially became soldiers to find their own glory and some joined the army in hopes of protecting and helping the people of God, of spreading His mercy through their campaigns, but one thing they share in common is that they allowed their service to their countries spill over into serving God and advancing His eternal kingdom. They used their courage and discipline for the service of God and became great disciples, in part, because of this. We all should learn to obey God as they did and to discipline ourselves so that we might be good vessels of His glory.