Happy Family Friday, folks! Yes, I know, it’s a week late. We’ll be doing a double header, I promise. We’ve been busy.

That’s right. Mommy has been organizing! Watch out or you’ll get organized!

We will get to Family Friday, but I want to do something a little different first.

Early this week I had a dream. I was falling asleep saying the Rosary, as I almost always do, and suddenly, without warning I was standing in the middle of a street in Aleppo. I have never been to Aleppo, I just knew it was Aleppo the way you know things in dreams. A bomb had just gone off on a crowded street. To my right there was a pile of rubble from a collapsed wall, with about a dozen bodies in it. To my left was a tent where some first responders were just starting to set up a triage point.

I saw all this in no time, because my attention was immediately focused on one woman lying among the rubble to my right. She looked about middle-aged, in a black hijab, and she was alive, and not wounded at all, but she lay among the dead, not moving, because she was cradling her dead baby.

She did not cry, or move, or look around, or give any sign that she saw any of the commotion around her. She just held her baby close and stared at her baby’s lifeless face with blank, empty eyes.

Again, this took less than a second to take in. I must have started to wake up, because I had a horrible moment of confusion where I thought the woman was either Kathleen or I, and the baby was either Evie or Ellie. Then I was awake with my heart going about 180 BPM, and Kathleen breathing softly beside me, and my rosary in my hand. The real strange part is that I felt a sudden reassurance that it was a dream, and that the girls were safe and well in their beds in their room. This assurance was so strong and complete that I didn’t feel the need to get up and go check on them, which is completely out of character for me.

There was more to it as I drifted back off to sleep, before I completely passed out, but that doesn’t really matter. I was left with two strong impressions. One was of the Blessed Mother weeping for her children: “And a sword of sorrow shall pierce your soul.” The other was the certainty that I was being asked to pray and fast and offer sacrifices for the children of poverty and war: “Blessed are they who mourn.

I don’t want you to think this is some kind of PTSD thing, or anything silly like that. It isn’t. It was a completely fictitious, though plausible dream, not based on any real experience of mine. Nor would I consider it a spiritual experience, except in the way that every experience is spiritual, since we are spiritual beings.

It may seem like a strange thing to share in a Family Friday, and it is, but there is a point to it, which is really the reason we do Family Friday at all. That is, we hope to show that Family is the great adventure of our time; that it is good, it is beautiful, it is meaningful, and it is worth it.

Planting flowers!

It is also fragile and vulnerable. Our relatively happy, stable and peaceful family life coexists in a world where children are murdered, families are torn apart, lives are ended too soon, souls are lost to hatred, violence, addiction. These things happen in Syria, in Cambodia, in Nigeria, in Tacoma, in your home town. We are at war. We are in a spiritual war against demons of unimaginable power, cunning and malice, and their all too real human allies and minions. We are supported by beings of light, and incomprehensible strength, intelligence and burning charity, and by the saints, known and unknown.

But we are at war. Our happy family exists on a battlefield, and is a target in the war spiritually, if not also physically. It is never far from my mind, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. (There is a difference between eternal vigilance and paranoia. The key difference is a sense of humor.)

But more to the point, I think, is that I want you, the readers, to remember that there are children who deserve a stable happy family no less than Evie and Ellie and your children do. Do not feel guilty because you have some happiness and stability, and they do not. This is not a privilege that we were given and they were not, it is a human right that they have been horrifically denied.

Do something to give it back to them. Pray and Fast. Give to worthy charities. Adopt. Join an NGO. Whoever has two tunics should share with the one who has none. Whoever has peace and security and financial stability should share with those who do not. You don’t need to look in Aleppo. They are not far from your door.

And enjoy the gifts you have been given with gratitude. Do not take them for granted. Hug your children and your spouse, be there for them, love them with every fiber of your being.

And that’s all for this week, or rather for the last two weeks. It has been a very busy, and I hope not too depressing, post. Please do pray and fast. It can move mountains.

And live with a grateful heart.

God Bless you all!

Over the last 90 days (ending on Easter) I have been undertaking the Exodus 90 disciplines for the second year. My brother and our friend Ronnie also did it this year. We had a larger group last year, and we met up more frequently. This year it was only us and we did not meet up at all, except for some family hangouts on Sundays.

During Exodus 90 I read a few books on my kindle relating to the alleged visions at Medjugorje, as well as listening to an audible book about the Fatima apparitions. I have also been working intensely on praying the Rosary, and writing down thoughts on how to teach our kids how to say the Rosary.

Finally, I have been fasting in reparation for my sins and the sins of others.

Just as importantly, I have been working in family practice, which brings me face to face with humanity in all its beauty, frailty, joy, stupidity and evil on a daily basis. I will be talking diet and exercise strategies with a 50-year-old pastor one minute, and trying to convince a sixteen-year-old boy that he should not kill himself in the very next appointment. It is a frontline posting in the spiritual war that we are all born into whether we like it or not. Many times over the last few weeks I have remembered the saying of Jesus: “This kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.”

I have learned several things from the experience, probably the most important of which is that I really have a very shallow and superficial relationship with Jesus and with His mother. Being the kind of person who likes to read and think and approach things through the mind, I have been reading and listening to audible books about Mary in the Scriptures, and about Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I said, I have been trying to pray the Rosary, more frequently and fervently.

But I have also come to have a greater appreciation for the importance of the home and family life Kathleen and I are trying to build here. We had some family over for Easter dinner and one of them paid us the compliment of saying we had a “very peaceful home.” There are some who think that is an extra, a privilege, or even an unfair advantage over the thousands, or even millions, who do not have the ability to live in peace and emotional security like our children do. I myself am prone to that thought, to feeling guilty at how well off we are when so many other people are less fortunate.

A few nights ago, it was probably a Thursday or Friday night based on how tired Kathleen and I were, we were trying to put the girls to bed, and they were having none of it. They still had tons of energy. It took an hour to get them even to want to lie still enough to snuggle. Then Ellie was in a clingy mood, and didn’t want to be put in her crib while she was still awake. Time was dragging on, and it was pushing closer and closer to 9:00, with laundry and work preparations still remaining to be done, and the knowledge weighed on me that we would probably be up with a snotty baby at least once, and that the jolt of the alarm was creeping inexorably closer and closer. I impatiently wondered why Ellie needed to be held right then. Why couldn’t she just go to sleep in her crib by herself?

For a brief second a picture flashed into my brain that I had seen on a news story or a facebook blurb or something like that. It was a picture of a little boy, probably two or three years old, who had been brought to a refugee hospital in Aleppo at the height of the civil war. I have seen the “thousand yard stare” many times in my life. I’ve probably worn it at least a couple times. But this picture was the first time I had ever seen it on a child’s face. It was a face that was worn, haggard, with huge eyes, completely catatonic, staring vacantly into nowhere.

I realized that holding our children when they need to be held is not an imposition, or an interruption. It is our most serious business, our most critical mission. Nor is it a privilege, or an unfair advantage for children to grow up valued, loved or emotionally secure, or to be read to at an early age. It is not a privilege, it is their birthright, as it is the birthright of every child ever born, to have a mother and a father who love them, and who model for them what real love is. The tragedy is not that some children get to enjoy a measure of this, but that many children do not.

I saw a little patient today, a sweet little boy with severe developmental delays and physical disabilities. His grandmother remarked in passing that we, the medical providers, had held him longer in the short office visit than his father had in his entire life.

I may not be able to love all the children of the world, but I can certainly love my own. I can offer everything I do from the moment the alarm goes off until the moment my eyes close (for the first time) at night as a sacrifice, as an act of charity and obedience, for all the other children that I cannot reach.

Right now it is Easter week. I am not sure how official it is, but I have been taught to think of Easter week as one long intentional celebration of the Resurrection. That means no fasting or abstaining. Instead, I plan on making pumpernickel bread and having bacon sandwiches on Friday this week, in gratitude for the glorious gift of bacon. This looks forward to the life of the world to come when God will “wipe away every tear from every eye.” It recalls that Jesus has risen, He is truly alive, and that He is with us always even to the end of the world. As He Himself said, “No one can fast when the Bridegroom is present.”

But He also followed that up with, “But someday the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15.)

We exist in the already and the not yet. So for one week out of the year, the week of Easter, we do not fast in celebration of the resurrection. But next week, Adam and Ronnie and I will take up fasting again. We will certainly not be doing all the Exodus 90 disciplines (cold showers are out!) But we all agreed that fasting seemed both the most essential and the most rewarding and we will be maintaining that to some varying extent.

Fasting is not a mental exercise, a spiritual workout. It is not about mind-over-matter or developing “self-discipline,” although it does those things. Fasting is an act of preparation for the Eucharist, first and foremost. It is a way of meditating with our body on “Every word that comes forth from the Mouth of God,” which is the “Word become Flesh, and dwelling among us,” “the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Secondly, fasting is an act of spiritual warfare. It is a defensive action that strengthens us against temptation. It is also an offensive action which, when offered for another, or offered directly to Jesus in union with His own salvific suffering (Colossians 1:24), is a fast acceptable to the Lord, able “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”

Pray, do penance, go to confession, Celebrate the Eucharist, Love your Family. You will be helping to save the world.

There is rather a long scene from the Marvel series “Daredevil” which touches on a topic too often glossed over or mistreated in popular movies. It’s rather a long video but you can start at 0:52 and not miss anything.

The acting, writing and cinematography of this scene is stunning, in my opinion because it draws on true theology. There really is a devil and he walks among us, and he works evil. I too believe in the devil, for much the same reason. I saw a little girl once at a Holy Week service when I was in the Philippines, with every square inch of her legs below her skirt covered with cigarette shaped burns. That is pure hatred.

People of the 20th century find it fashionable to scoff at the idea of the devil. This is silly. The devil is the only possible explanation of the 20th century. Two world wars, Nazism, Communism, the Cambodian killing fields, the Rwandan genocide, the Serbian genocide, to say nothing of the abortion of millions of unborn children, are the fingerprints of the devil written large across this world. But those fingerprints are also in small things. In essence, those big evils are nothing more than collections of much smaller acts of selfishness and hatred.

I had a conversation with my preceptor in clinic a few weeks ago, talking about some of our “crazy” patients. There was one in particular that I had identified as having borderline personality disorder (incidentally she was also given that diagnosis in the ER). He did not deny the diagnosis, but he did make the observation that a personality disorder is really a learned set of behaviors. No one is born with a personality disorder. They learn a set of strategies for coping with their environment, and if those strategies work in some way then they are reinforced and repeated until they become a habit, and neurologically a reflex. Eventually it ceases to be a chosen behavior and instead becomes a personality.

In this particular case, the patient had been sexually abused for most of her childhood by an older male relative and her parents did not believe her until he was caught and convicted. Then her father blamed her for the whole thing.

It is not an uncommon story, sadly. It explained her disorder. She is caught in a pattern of behavior that she learned as a child, still trying to find protection and love with only the emotional resources of a child, and increasingly validated in her belief that everyone will eventually betray her. This is the work of the devil. Through the agency of a human entirely or partially given over to his influence, he destroyed this woman’s health and sanity, and seeks to destroy her soul as well. This is why when I am in the room with patients I am usually praying for them silently. Sometimes I ask my guardian angel to talk to theirs. Usually I remember to pray for them in the morning before clinic, and in the evening after clinic. The physical ailments are only the tip of the iceberg. We do not contend with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers.

Perhaps not coincidentally I am currently reading Paul Thigpen’s “Manual for Spiritual Warfare.” We exist in a spiritual battlefield. We are born into a war that began before the first human drew breath and will not end until all is consummated at the end of time. We may not like it, but it is true. It is not enough to hunker down and bury our heads in the sand. We must fight. Nor must our fighting be solely defensive, just trying to keep ourselves out of trouble. I am my brother’s keeper, and I am called to fight for them. To the extent that I have authority over anyone or love anyone, I am called to fight for them spiritually. What does this mean?

  1. Live a good Christian life. Practice virtue, root out vice, fulfill the duties of my state in life.
  2. Pray. In this battle most of us function more as TAC-P’s than as Marines. That is, we don’t go hand-to-hand with demons, we call in angelic airstrikes. Whatever else our prayers include, they must include at a minimum:
    1. Mass at least once per week
    2. Confession as least once per month (Padre Pio recommended weekly)
    3. The Rosary at least once per day
  3. Fasting: At least once per week. This should be a serious fast, at least in line with the Church’s rubric of only one full meal and two small meals that do not equal the full meal. If we cannot fast for health reasons (most people can) we should be making some other sacrifice, such as cutting out electronics for one day per week. Ideally this discipline should be imposed by a spiritual director so that it may be born out of the virtue of obedience.
  4. Almsgiving: Practice charity concretely, in your works, in your wallet, in your watch.

That’s it! Pretty simple, more or less the same things Catholic mothers and fathers and saints have been telling us for two thousand years. Being conformed to Christ is spiritual warfare, because the victory is His through the cross. To become conformed to the image of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is to be changed into His victory over evil, because…

—————————————————–Spoiler Alert——————————————–

Jesus wins!

The dominant metaphor for the spiritual life has always been warfare. It was the first metaphor that really clicked with me, and brought my spirituality into consciousness. It has consistently shown me my own deficiencies and directed my energies profitably, although it is not a perfect or complete guide to a mature Catholic spirituality: a.ka. sainthood. (For instance, when you think of spiritual warfare, Psalm 8:2 and Matthew 21:16 should give you some pause).

Nevertheless it has been and continues to be the most resonant and practical metaphor by which I understand my role in the spiritual life, closely followed by medicine. Perhaps not coincidentally, warfare and medicine, in that order, have been the focus of my entire adult life.

One of the themes in the study of warfare is why some militaries have consistently been dominant over other militaries throughout world history. The hoplites of the Greek City States, exemplified by Sparta and Athens are one example of a dominant military. The Roman legions are perhaps the example par excellence of a military that maintained its dominance through defeat and held it long after the empire it served had decayed beyond repair. Finally, the American military throughout the 20th century has enjoyed an unprecedented degree of dominance in world affairs, although that may be waning now in a world where the traditional technology gap is narrowing between us and our adversaries.

When I look at all these militaries the common thread I see is quite simple: disciplined, scientific, mutually reinforcing small unit tactics.

The precursor to the modern small infantry unit is undoubtedly the Spartan phalanx. It was disciplined and professional, in that the only profession allowed a free born Spartan male was warfare. They practiced the shield wall, they lived in the shield wall, they died in the shield wall. It was scientific, in that it eschewed the heroic ideal of man-on-man heroic single combat that marked so much of Greek literature (e.g. the Iliad) in favor of a cold, unromantic strategy that worked. But most importantly, it was mutually reinforcing.

Asked why it was dishonorable to return without a shield and not without a helmet, the Spartan king, Demaratos (510 – 491) is said to have replied: “Because the latter they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of all.” (Plutarch, Mor.220)

As exciting as the movie “300″ was, it failed to capture the essentially businesslike,

This is not what Spartan warfare looked like.

unromantic nature of Spartan warfare. Even though they took pride in dying for their city, their job was to win for their city. To that end they trained to stand, march, and fight in a straight line. Each man had his task, either covering the man to his left with his shield, pushing on the back of the man in front of him who held a shield, or stabbing between the shields in front of him. Everything that every man did was about the team, the unit, and ultimately about the city.

The Romans took the concept of the shield wall and evolved it into its ultimate form, the Phalanx. There is a rather excellent example of the Roman phalanx in action in the opening scene of the movie “Risen.”Roman fighting, Risen

The Roman military was not an undefeated victory machine. Indeed, they lost rather spectacularly on more than one occasion. However, they won in the long run for a thousand years, a record unequalled by any other Western military.

The Roman army was professional and disciplined, pioneering the forerunner of the modern Non-Commissioned Officer corps, standardizing pay and benefits, and even eventually developing a pension plan. They had standardized tactics and training regimens, and even something like modern combined arms theory. However, the core of the Roman military system remained the milites, the small infantry unit, that lived, trained and fought together in a mutually supporting formation.

The American military dominance in the 20th century, while built on a solid basis of superior industrial and population capacity in the First World War, was also largely founded upon the most advanced and professional infantry tactics of the day. Specifically, the American military pioneered the strong point defensive system, which involved the setting up of a squad, platoon, company, or battalion sized perimeter based on interchangeable blocks: “Strong points.” The foundation of this was interlocking sectors of fire. Instead of each soldier in the line firing at the area directly in front of him, he would fire between 60 and 30 degrees to the right or the left of straight in front.

Foxhole Sector of fire
Open source: https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/21-75/Ch2.htm

This means that when you are on the line in defense, your sector of fire is not defending yourself. You are defending the man to your right or left, and he is defending you. This holds even in the fast moving and fluid world of urban combat, in which your sector of fire is usually off to the oblique, covering your buddy, who is covering you.

Without getting into the technical details of defilade and enfilade and denying cover by intersecting fires, (I have grossly oversimplified the whole thing here) I want to focus on two details common to all of these systems. One was that all were possible only because of strong, well trained and professional small unit leaders. The most important job in the military is the fireteam leader, usually a 20-21 year old E-5 or senior E-4 with less than three years in the military. They are the ones making the split second, on the ground, life or death decisions that actually decide the battle one way or the other.

Secondly, one of the reasons these formations worked was that they relied upon, and built, courage and self sacrifice. It takes courage to ignore what is happening directly in front of you and trust your battle buddy to cover your butt. It takes self-sacrifice to accept that your place in the line is to keep covering your buddy so he can cover you. But this style of warfare also builds these qualities because men will always fight harder to protect someone else than they do to protect themselves.

This has an important analogy to the spiritual life. In our spiritual warfare our prayers must also be disciplined, professional, and mutually supporting. Intercessory prayer is the key. Instead of praying for myself, my intentions, my struggles and my hopes and fears, what if I share all of those with my wife and ask her to pray for them. In return I ask about her intentions, her struggles, hopes and fears, and I make them mine and I pray for them. Just like that we are both practicing self-sacrifice in making someone else’s priorities my priority; and we are practicing courage in the form of trust. We are entrusting our deepest fears to someone other than ourselves. We are letting go of the need to control our own fate, even through prayer.

Just like that, we have formed a strongpoint.

How far would I take this analogy? Pretty far, I think. Anything that puts someone else at the center of my prayer rather than myself is a good thing. Too often prayer becomes an exercise in introspection rather than a real encounter with God simply because my own priorities remain the topic of that prayer, instead of being open to listen. Certainly if I cannot listen even to my wife, how can I hope to listen to God?


Fort_Bragg_SignI have spent a good deal of my life at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It is the home of the Airborne and Special Forces, and I spent a little over two years there in my Q-course days. When I graduated I was fed up with that place. I had spent two years suffering there, what with the heat and the humidity and getting smoked and yelled at and the hardships of Special Forces training. Perhaps it was petty of my, but when I graduated my thought was, “Screw this place! I am done with it. I am never coming back here. Ever!”

I have since proceeded to return to Fort Bragg at least once per year nearly every year since. I do a medic refresher course every other year, of course. But it is also the home of the Special Forces. You want to go to a leadership school? You’re going to Fort Bragg. You want to deploy? You’re going through Fort Bragg. You want to do any cool shooting schools? You’re going to Fort Bragg.

Over time I have lost my hatred of Fort Bragg and eventually I have even come to regard it as a sort of messed up home-away-from-home. A huge part of that reason, both the reason that I stayed sane when I was in the Q-course, and why I don’t mind Bragg nowadays is the Catholic community there.

I have lived on half a dozen different military installations in my life, and I have never seen a Catholic community like St. Michaels in Bragg. The heart and soul of that community is the daily Mass, conducted every day at noon in Pope Chapel (so called because it is on Pope Army Airfield). There is a core crew of about a dozen retirees led by a retired General who attend every single day, but it isn’t only the old people. Every day there are at least a few young active duty folks. There are some single guys and gals who go, there are some married officers and senior enlisted, and often there are wives and children of soldiers there. And there is almost always at least one or two Q-course students.

Why that is the case, I do not know. It has been my experience that while Special Forces has its fair share of avowed atheists and functional atheists, it also has a higher number of truly committed, disciplined men of faith than other parts of the Army. Purely anecdotal, of course, but I can’t help wondering if the stress and danger of the life doesn’t call up a higher level of commitment in some of the men.

I also know that Fort Bragg has been very fortunate in having some extremely dynamic and charismatic Catholic chaplains in the last few years, and in having a couple of civilian priests on staff as well who can provide long term continuity.

Fort Bragg Chapel
The elderly gentleman in the blue plaid shirt is the General, preparing to lead the Chaplet.

Whatever the reason, it remains the thing I look forward to most whenever I am Braggward bound again. It is like coming home to break away at lunch time, make the five or ten minute drive to Pope Chapel and slip into my old pew near the back on the right. If I can get away early enough I can even take advantage of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and daily confessions. It does my heart good to see all the old soldiers and old soldiers’ wives slowly shuffling in. The General always recognizes me and asks how I am and how my family is doing. The Mass is reverent and celebrated with love and devotion. Afterwards they say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy Novena, or the Rosary. I usually can’t stay.

As I was leaving last time the General told me to stay safe and to do my best to keep the bad guys off their backs. I laughed and said I would, but I rather suspect that those old soldiers and their wives are doing more to keep the evil in this world at bay than any deployment ever will.

Every morning I get up and pray. It is a struggle. Almost every day I have to force myself to

Borrowed from https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/9-tips-focus-mass/

get out of bed, make coffee, kneel in front of the crucifix and begin my prayers. I have to force myself to keep my mind on the words, on the presence of Jesus, on what I am doing and who I am doing it with. It isn’t even a matter of keeping my mind there, so much as continually bringing it back.

Over and over again I bring it back, usually with a sigh, to the task at hand, which is usually simply to trust in the Presence of God in the midst of a staticky sort of emptiness.

If this sounds discouraging, it isn’t. I am describing what my prayer life is like at this time in my life, but I am not complaining about it. After all, I have a prayer life. That is a gift. I didn’t always have a prayer life. Millions of people around the world do not have a prayer life. The mere fact that I do pray is a blessing and I am grateful for it.

In fact, that is the big danger, that I will become pleased with myself. I can easily become complacent and lose what intensity I do have. Prayer and training are much the same, in that regard. The hard part is remembering what they are all about, remembering that we are at war.

I saw it all the time in the Army, even when I was on active duty. I even saw it in Special Forces, from time to time. When you are in garrison in peace time, or only pulling occasional easy missions to Thailand or Nepal or Europe, where all you really have to do is train and party with our allies for a few weeks, it is easy to feel like the training doesn’t really matter. Everyone laughs at the crusty old team sergeant who always insists on that one extra run through the shoot house, or dragging out the tourniquets and running some trauma training. Sometimes it takes a funeral to bring it home to you.

We are at war. Training matters because training saves lives. And it isn’t the big, flashy, sexy training events with people jumping out of airplanes into the water and swimming up onto the beach with SCUBA gear. That is good for movies and recruiting videos and making generals feel good about their career choices. The real business of saving lives is the continuous, repetitive daily practice of the same old thing: drawing and firing the pistol; firing the rifle; putting on a tourniquet; whipping together a pressure dressing; running, rucking or lifting; managing vital signs; talking to people who want to kill you, or who just don’t like you; building common ground with ideologues from either side of the fence. These skills are basic, lifesaving, and necessary, and they save lives.

They are also boring.

I have an A-type silhouette on the wall in my garage and a training pistol that fires a laser instead of a bullet when you pull the trigger. Most days, before I leave for school (after morning prayer) I dry fire that or my rifle a few times, practicing my basic stance, presentation, sight picture, and movement, with and without body armor. It takes a couple of minutes to get in a few dozen good quality repetitions. Sometimes I feel like it’s a few minutes I could do without.

I do it because I am a husband and father, and also a soldier, and someday the muscle memory I build a little bit every day may be the difference between me coming home to my family or not. When I find that I am forgetting that, and starting to get lazy with my shooting or at the gym, or in my medical training, I deliberately remind myself.

We are at war.

Prayer is similar, but even more serious. I train for combat a little every day, but when I pray it is not just training. It is the real deal. That is actual spiritual warfare. In the air all around us, all the time, demonic and angelic forces are continuously locked in an epic struggle. The devils and all the powers of darkness and hate are ranged against us humans. All of us. Even our human enemies are less our enemies than our fellow casualties in this cosmic struggle.

Prayer is an act of war, an act of renewing our commitment to being on the side of Jesus and all the Saints and Angels. It is my daily call for orders, and taking my station, asking for protection for my family and friends, and making sure that my supplies and commo and gear are set before I go out into the day. It is also an offensive weapon, a direct strike against the devil.

There is no more important thing I do in any day than my first hour of prayer.

It is life and death.

The only hard part is remembering that.

*To “Wear your red hat” is a slang term in Army planning for the process of viewing a situation from the point of view of an enemy.

A while back, during some Army training, I had the opportunity to participate in a planning exercise. The scenario was that a small team of Special Forces guys (us) was going to be inserted into a country that had recently suffered a violent coup. We were to link up with the remnants of the legitimate government and begin working to enable them to cooperate with conventional U.S. forces in order to retake their country.

It’s a pretty standard scenario for SF, and has been since our legacy days with the OSS in WWII. That was a large part of the “special” warfare, preparing resistance forces to work with the Allies when they arrived. The details of the scenario don’t really matter, except to note that in our fictional Area of Operations (AO) there was an enemy infantry division of 6,000 troops garrisoned in the capital.

Now, part of the planning process involves looking at the entire situation from the enemy’s perspective and planning what they would do so that we can develop contingencies for our own plans. The official term is “war-gaming” but we often call it “wearing the red hat.” Of course the potential range of activities for the enemy is virtually limitless and it is impossible to foresee and plan for every contingency, so instead, by convention, we limit ourselves to two specific courses of action (COAs). These are the most likely (MLCOA) and most dangerous (MDCOA).

Without getting into all the details, we decided that the MLCOA was for the enemy to keep doing what they were doing in their area, continuing to consolidate their hold on the country, register people, disarm, conduct atrocities and war crimes and maybe launch an occasional small scale anti-guerrilla operation. The MDCOA, we decided, would be for them to take that division sized element, mass all 6000 troops in the various small towns throughout the AO, and conduct huge sweeping search maneuvers all through our territory. We reasoned that this was the most dangerous because it would pin us down and cause us to be surrounded by a vastly superior force, and eventually fixed and destroyed by their superior firepower.

I don’t know about you, but certain death usually counts as “most dangerous” in my book.

That was what we came up with, and that was what we briefed to the senior SF officer who was playing the role of our task force commander. After we had finished explaining that, we ended up contradicting ourselves by saying that our plan was deliberately to trigger that MDCOA to divert the enemy’s attention away from the oncoming friendly forces (and hope that our people could get to us before they did). Then we asked him if he had any feedback.

65076032He did.

“So, your MDCOA. If that is what you guys are trying to do to facilitate the war effort, why do you consider it the most dangerous?”

We reiterated the line about enemy troops massing, fixing, battering us with artillery, etc.

“I get that,” he said. “And yeah, I grant you having 6,000 dudes chasing you through the woods is probably pretty dangerous. But is it dangerous to you or to the mission?”

We were silent.

“I guess what I am saying is, if you can disrupt these guys enough that they feel they have to send in an entire division to hunt you down, some people would consider that a good example of you winning. That is what is going to draw the people to your side. That is what is going to make way for the cavalry to come in guns blazing and clean house. So yeah, you might get killed, but them coming after you isn’t going to damage the overall mission.”

wpaqixhAs we digested that he went on: “You know what would damage the overall mission? If they didn’t come after you, all guns blazing. What if, instead of launching division sized sweep and clear, they started beefing up their secret police? Buying out the local citizens? Sending out propaganda messages that de-legitimize everything you do? Bribe your fighters with offers of power, money and privilege? What if they slowly stripped away your support and then sent in little assassin cells to hunt you down quietly? Or even just capture you and send you out of the country? Do you think that would be more dangerous to your mission?”

All of a sudden it was a paradigm shift. We had been thinking in terms of what was most dangerous to us, and from a purely conventional mindset as well. Now we had to think what was most dangerous to the mission, in an atmosphere where the enemy could use any and every dirty trick in the book to get us.

It got me thinking. Isn’t that kind of how it goes in the Spiritual Warfare? Have you ever had the experience of trying to grow spiritually, maybe during lent, or Holy Week, or maybe you decide to start a novena or a ministry project, or a new morning prayer routine? And did you ever find that plan instantly beset on all sides by temptations, distractions, and even outright spiritual panic?

If you’re like me your first thought when that happens is, “What am I doing wrong?”

However, as a priest said to me in confession once, the question in such situations might well be, “What am I doing right?”

What is it that has caused Satan to ramp up his game against me? Why is he massing troops and conducting counter-guerrilla operations? Unlike in an earthly war where we might want to scale back whatever we are doing that triggered that, in the spiritual warfare, once we figure that out we need to keep doing it. Even when it feels like we are hemmed in on all sides and taking indirect fire every five minutes and about to be wiped out, we need to keep doing what we are doing. That is not his most dangerous COA. It is his most desperate COA. We have superior firepower on our side (that angelic air-force is badass!) and we cannot lose, even if we die.

I will tell you what his real MDCOA is. It’s that slow, steady, creeping discouragement, as prayer-spiritual-warfare-thumbhe slowly and methodically strips away all of our bases of support. Whenever he can convince us to neglect prayer, that’s a supply run that never happened. Avoiding Mass or confession is like not going out to get our resupply bundles.

Worse if he can bribe us with promises of money, power or privilege (or even just comfortableness) to give up Sunday Mass, or to commit a mortal sin. (Can you imagine the damage a Special Forces Team could do to a war effort if while they were inserted behind enemy lines they periodically defected to the enemy? That is what happens every Sunday that we do not go to Mass. That happens every time we commit a mortal sin.)

I guess what I am saying is don’t be discouraged by temptations, or even by sins. Just keep trusting and plugging away (this doesn’t mean be stupid about not avoid occasions of sin). Keep coming back to God, trusting that His mercy and love are enough and even my less than stellar attitude in the armpit end of a losing battle is raw material that He will use to bring about victory.

Absolute trust.

And damn the torpedoes! Full Steam Ahead!


This beautiful image is borrowed from https://pilgrimatthecrossroads.files.wordpress.com

The Best Part of Waking Up is the morning holy hour. Whether I drive to St. Frances Cabrini’s and pray in front of the Tabernacle, or simply go upstairs and meditate, a solid hour of prayer every morning is a prerequisite for a good day. It is the ground work for the battles to come. It is a chance to inventory MWE (Men, Weapons and Equipment. Sorry, throwback to my military days), prep equipment, oil the guns, top off magazines and canteens and down some Spiritual Chow before beginning the day’s operations.

If I do that morning stand-to, my day is usually pretty good. If not, my day https://sites.google.com/site/worldwar1class4/life-in-the-trenches/daily-routineis rocky at best, and often a disaster.

Unfortunately, sometimes just getting there can be a struggle. I deliberately try to be in bed at a specific time every night, precisely so that I will be able to get up with time for that morning prayer hour.

However, life being what it is, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I am awake past bedtime for one reason or another. Sometimes Evie gets me up in the middle of the night. Sometimes she gets me up and wants to party in the middle of the night. I am always aware of the sleep clock during these interruptions. As the overall amount of sleep drops ever further and further below budget, the odds of having a rough time getting out of bed and into prayer time go higher and higher.

Then the alarm goes off and this song and dance starts.intuition-vv65ssttfyzv6bayjjl-jq

I feel like the Angel says, “He will do his prayer time. The Spirit is Willing!”

And the Demon says, “He’ll go back to bed. The flesh is weak.”

But then the Voice of the Lord Thunders from all Eternity in the prevenient grace of a Creative Act:Slide1



This morning’s cup of motivation brought to you by DeEspressoLiber.

In the break between quarters this summer I am entertaining myself at least partly by taking an online medical biochemistry course from the University of New England. It is a bit rough but I am making good progress. I usually go to the library to work for a few hours a day, because it is:

  1. Quiet
  2. Free (I bike so no gas)
  3. Has interwebs

Last thursday I arrived as they opened, at 10:00 AM, found myself a table, fired up the laptop, and sat down to get to it.

Before I got to it, though, I decided I would check my facebook first (wanted to see how the last blog post was doing, you know how it is?) And of course, that is never a short proposition. I never just log in, check it, log out, I always get distracted by someone’s post about Pope Francis’s latest misunderstood statement and what he meant by it, and oh, by the way, here’s a video of a baby and a puppy and a young otter frolicking together on the back of an elephant that loves them all so very, very much, and you really need to read this article about why republicrats are evil, etc.

I scrolled for about 10 minutes or so, and then reminded myself that I was here to work, and I ought to get to it. It occurred to me I could say mid-morning prayer of the Divine Office and dive right into bio-chem.

I usually say Divine Office using the iBreviary app on my phone, or as a podcast using the Divine Office app if I am super busy or driving somewhere. Recently, however, I have taken to using the leather-bound four-volume set, at least for the Office of Readings and Office of Morning Prayer first thing in the morning. The iphone is convenient, but there is something about a leather-bound prayer book that is more conducive to meditation. I typically only say the major hours, Readings, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, but for whatever reason, that day I packed the book in my book bag, intending to say all the minor hours as well (Mid-morning, Mid-day, Mid-afternoon, and Night Prayer).

The minor hours are aptly named, for they are intended to be inserted into the busy workday at regular intervals (9:00, 12:00, and 3:00). Accordingly they take only about 5 minutes, 8 if you sing the hymn.

Well, I closed down facebook intending to get out my breviary when all of a sudden I realized that I was actually far too busy to say the minor hours today! Far, far too busy. I had so much studying on my plate, I could not afford to waste another minute, I had to get right to it. There was not a moment to lose.

Of course you know where that thought came from. This guy! ——>

I had to laugh, actually, because it was ludicrous. The immediacy and obviousness of it (which I have fallen for many, many times). Here I had just spent ten minutes doing basically nothing, and not a peep out of him, but let me even think about spending even half that time praying, and all of a sudden, he has a million things to say about how much work I have to do, and how I can’t afford to be procrastinating, and the duties of my state in life and yadda yadda yadda, yammering uselessly.

I prayed the minor hours anyway, thank God! Who knows what great goods might have come of that?

It is moments like these that convince me that the spiritual warfare is real, and also largely one-sided.

It is one-sided in the long term because Jesus rose from the dead, so all other arguments are invalid. But in the short time it very often seems to be one-sided the other way, i.e. the bad guys keep winning. I am convinced this is not because the bad guys are so powerful, but because the so-called good guys are asleep.

Or as T. S. Eliot would say, “Asleep, tired, or [we] malinger.”

That's right, this is going on around us all the time, and we are sleeping through it!
That’s right, this is going on around us all the time, and we are sleeping through it!

I mean seriously, why is it that we can veg out on facebook for twenty minutes without noticing it, but if we want to say a decade of the rosary we suddenly have a million things to do? We can stay up until 10:30 because we just have to finish this episode of “Sherlock” but then suddenly we are just too tired and it is far too late to say bedtime prayers? And don’t even get me started about morning prayer!

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

— 2 Corinthians 10:4

The truth is that that the devil will try almost any nonsense to distract us from prayer, because prayer is almost the most powerful weapon we have against him. It pays for him to keep it safely locked in the weapons cabinet.

Seriously, we do not realize the power of prayer. In the words of Saint Paul “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” 2 Corinthians 10:4. These strongholds are the niches and dark corners of our spirits where Satan still has his influence. When we pray we open up those dark fortresses to the light, and it blasts the enemy out with C-4! What toys the Father gives us to play with! Like in my old engineer days when we would play around for an hour so, stacking innocent looking blocks of white play-dough, but then, at the pull of a wire loop, BOOM!!!! A building disappears in a cloud of smoke and fire! If we could really see what happens when we pray we would walk away from our prayer time like this:

Cool guys don't look at explosions. They walk away in slow motion.
Cool guys don’t look at explosions. They walk away in slow motion.

Just keep that image in mind next time you pray, see if it doesn’t give you a little extra oompf!