The Battle (2nd Sunday of Lent)

(from Love or What You Will by Gwen Adams, (c.) 2010)

"We are the brave deeds we do before the age of twenty.” —Bishop Tadeuz in James Michener’s Poland

You were fourteen when your parents made you get confirmed. “What if I don’t want to?” you said. “Isn’t it supposed to be your own decision?” Your parents sent you to class anyway. You wrote notes to your friends in a college-ruled notebook and looked up wearily when the teacher called on you. The teacher talked about Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. You wondered vaguely how Isaac must have felt about the whole thing. You felt irritable and skipped the homework.

The teacher talked about Moses standing through the battle with his arms stretched out and supported by Aaron and Hur. When Moses dropped his arms, the battle went badly. So he stood all day until the battle was over—

“Not ‘over,’” said the teacher. “Won.”
“I wish this class was over,” muttered a student and everyone snickered. You looked out the window at the telephone wires and the alley and thought of a man named Hur who got stuck with the boring job of holding up someone’s arms all day.

“We are in a battle,” said the teacher. “A real battle.”
“What battle?” said the smart kid. He was supposed to be three grades ahead but his parents put him in late. “Is this one of those INVISIBLE battles or something?” The teacher was visibly deflated.
“It is a spiritual battle and a real battle,” said the teacher. “There are real casualties. Some people die and they die forever and some people live and they live forever. We are in this battle whether we like it or not. The only choice is to decide if we want to be conquerors or victims. The day you are confirmed, you become an adult—”
LET ANYTHING HAPPEN TO ME, you thought looking at the teacher’s turtleneck and glasses. A turtleneck! DON’T LET ME BE AN ADULT WHO WEARS TURTLENECKS AND TEACHES SUNDAY SCHOOL.
“How do we get out of the battle?” said the smart kid. The teacher was really shocked after that.

All that year you went to school, played soccer, rode the bus, saw the trees in the mall parking-lot lose their leaves. They were covered with red berries in the winter. The snow turned to slush, the slush to mud, the mud to grass, and May came. You were confirmed. And that was the last time you gave a thought to the Church. You were not interested in victims or conquerors. It was the same with your friends. You graduated from high-school, college, found jobs, watched the game on Saturdays, went shopping and golfing, took vacations, had hobbies, got married in or out of the Church.

And then somewhere down the line the baby came and everything changed.
Somewhere between the trip to the hospital and the first cries of your daughter, you heard the trumpet and the martial drums.

Driving to the hospital, you saw the watch-fires and the tents, the single priest by the kneeling soldier; the last letter and the trinkets packed up and handed to friends to mail home.

A hundred battles, a hundred armies, a hundred weapons and a shield. Real casualties; real deaths.

What music woke your heart, what war-cry, looking at your child and at your beloved, linking hands, looking at each other over the baby’s head and nodding “to the bitter end for this one.”
And you found that you were a leader of men and a trainer of soldiers. It was the same with your friends. And with them you found you were not fit to lead, could not march, had handled neither sword nor bayonet, reeled at the rifle’s rebound. Young soldiers saw you lag in the running, a hand to the stitch in your side.
No discipline or endurance. Your language, your drinking, your anger—you found yourself daily in trouble with your commanding officer.

You could not lead, but you had to. Lives depended on you.

Some days you despaired and the drummer-boy gave you cold comfort.

“How can I be sure,” you said, “That I will not train soldiers badly, that I will not lead us astray, that men will not die at my hands, that I myself will not be lost?”

“You cannot be sure of that,” said the boy. The drum lay on his knees. “That is not the thing to think of. It would have been better to train in your youth, but what’s done is done. You have been made a sentinel. You are not the general. This battle is the long defeat. You will not see it’s winning, but it will be won. You needn’t fear for the outcome. We will be more than conquerors.”

The campfires were put out as the day dawned and the line drew up.

EXAMINATION: Do I ever postpone God, holiness, trying? Do I despair when I find myself a victim of my own vices? Do I try again?

Related reading
  • Ps 95
  • Ezekiel 33.7-9
  • Romans 8.31-34, 37 and 13.8-10
  • Cycle C Readings: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Exodus 17.8-13; Ps 121; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.2; Luke 18.1-8.

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