Catholic Military Chaplaincy

The month of November is a big one for the Catholic Church.  We honor and remember those who have passed away, recognize the examples provided to us through the lives of the Saints, and pray for those souls who are waiting to be fully cleansed in Purgatory before they join Our Lord in Heaven.

Throughout the world, and on a more secular note, November also marks Armistice Day, known by various names (Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and/or Veterans Day).  Armistice Day is a day of recognition for all military veterans, held on November 11th.

This year, throughout the day on Veterans Day, my mind’s eye kept referencing the military chaplains.  While I thanked my family members who have served, for the first time, I thought of, and prayed for, those that served, or are currently serving, as chaplains to their faithful Catholic flock, during times of war and peace, as military Catholic chaplains.

Even with all the various religious denominations in the military, the military chaplaincy corps is still relatively small.  The Catholic military chaplaincy corps is even smaller, due to restrictions placed on one’s ability to call themselves a “priest.”

Not only must a Catholic military chaplain be an ordained Priest, but they must then also receive a dispensation (or, permission) from their local bishop in the diocese in which they are ordained, to serve for their period of time, under the auspices of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS).  A lot of times, in order to become a priest, a diocese has invested a lot of time and money into ensuring a soon-to-be priest has completed seminary – usually paying for that seminarian’s way through school.  At the end of completion of Seminary, the now-ordained priest is then sent to work for the diocese.  But, in the event that a seminarian is entering the Armed Services, the diocese must agree to allowing the Priest to go work for another diocese.

However, the “other” diocese is a really cool diocese!  As the current Archbishop for the Military Services describes, Archbishop Timothy Broglio is Archbishop over the diocese where, “the sun never sets.”  Because he oversees all of the Catholic chaplains around the world, regardless of branch of service, there is literally daylight over one church in his jurisdiction at all times.

Even the crest for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA is pretty darn cool:

The individual chaplain can choose which branch he would like to serve (Army, Air Force, Navy – which provides chaplaincy support to Marines and Coast Guard as well), and after passing that branch’s officer instruction course, will be assigned to the parish that most needs the active duty chaplain.

Unfortunately, given the shortage of Catholic priests in the civilian sector, as well as the Catholic priests in the Armed Services, not every installation can lay claim to an active duty chaplain.  To give incentive for a civilian diocese to allow a Catholic priest to join AMS and serve as an active duty chaplain, AMS provides partial scholarships to seminarians – they assist the seminarian’s diocese in defraying the cost to the diocese for seminary, in exchange for the diocese’s approval of the seminarian joining the military as a chaplain upon ordination.    

In the past couple years, after reverting back to the Church, I have experienced active duty chaplains, contract priests with no military experience, and retired active duty chaplains serving as contract priests for AMS.  I have also experienced the civilian Catholic churches local to wherever we have been assigned – the civilian parishes, with civilian priests.

Hands down, I will say I absolutely adore our military chaplains.  One guy was a monk, who lived in silence for the first decade of his ordination (or however monks become monks).  Another is from a completely different country, and brings such beauty to his perspective on living life in general, let alone the transient lifestyle that accompanies the military!  A third chaplain, while acknowledging to me he didn’t “know how to hold kids,” was ready to remind parishioners of the Holy Innocents who were killed while Herod searched for the Baby Jesus, and encourage mothers with small children to continue to “bring your children to church.”  And, they know how to relate to their parishioners, many of whom have families with young children.

These men serve away from their families, living 24/7 amongst their parishioners, working with them day in and day out, and sometimes have to give spiritual guidance on issues that their civilian counterparts can only imagine having to give.  Unlike other denominations, they don’t have the ability to move even with their wives, children, etc.  So, they are in a unique category.

They experience the highs and lows that their civilian counterparts experience, but then also have an added sense of adventure to their journeys by being willing to deploy to areas of conflict in the world, and continue to minister their flock.  They deal daily with marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics, between those who have left the Church and are now contemplating coming back, and also ensuring they are upholding the mission of their service branch while simultaneously upholding the traditions and rubrics of Catholicism.  They also have to tread a fine line between living their Catholic faith, and ministering to other faith denominations without evangelizing or attempting to convert the service member they may be seeing at the time.

These veterans are absolutely amazing.  They have answered a “call within a call” or, as AMS puts it, a “vocation within a vocation.”  I am absolutely blessed to have known so many wonderful priests who serve as active duty military chaplains, and I applaud their selfless work and impact on their congregations.

So, the next time Veterans Day rolls around, please remember to keep military chaplains in your thoughts and prayers, even if you don’t know one personally.  The work they do is incalculable.  And, please pray for more seminarians to discern the call to serve our military families as an active duty chaplain, and pray for support from the priest’s home diocese.

For more information on the U.S. Military Catholic Chaplaincy, check out AMS’ website: www.milarch.org.  To read more about Chaplains in the Military, here is the direct page:  http://www.milarch.org/site/c.dwJXKgOUJiIaG/b.6571371/k.5224/Catholic_military_chaplains_and_their_ministry.htm.  And, if you feel called to donate to AMS for continuing to serve their mission of serving the members of the Armed Services, check out ways to donate at: http://www.milarch.org/site/c.dwJXKgOUJiIaG/b.9087177/k.9551/Ways_to_Give.htm.

As my family begins to gear up to possibly moving this next summer, I am excited to learn our new duty location, and hearing about the history and nuances of that location.  I am praying the next location has another active duty chaplain, to continue to guide my family in its spiritual journey.

So, I wish not only my family members and friends a Happy Veterans Day, albeit a day late on this blog, but I especially wish our active duty and retired Military Chaplains a fantastic, Happy Veterans Day.  This is one parishioner who is thankful for each and every single Catholic military chaplain!

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