Written by: Anthony DaVino, Ph.D, LMHC
Veterans Day, one of our national “holy days,” will come upon us soon. A topic that is rarely discussed is that of “The Soldier Saints”. The term seems antithetical yet there are many saints who were in the military and some who, because of their distinguished service, are now patrons of the military. The Armor Association honors outstanding members such as General George Patton with a decoration called The Order of St. George. St. Maurice’s exploits as a Roman Soldier caused him to be named the Patron of Infantry.
Now, when we think of St. Francis we may envision a gentle medieval friar walking about the Italian countryside preaching to the birds. Yet his vision of a religious order and his saintly character seems to have been influenced by his early life as a soldier.
In a military expedition against Perugia, Francis witnessed the horrors of battle. He was captured and spent a year in prison. Did Francis suffer some of the trauma of conflict and imprisonment? Adrian House suggests that he may have contracted tuberculosis during this period. However, he also points out that emotionally, Francis appears not to have missed a beat. As a matter of fact, his outgoing, garrulous nature was a nuisance to some fellow prisoners. But who is to say that emotional stress must express itself in prescribed ways and that Francis’ reaction wasn’t a nervous response or an adjustment reaction? Later on, in a renewed search for his spurs and at the insistence of “voices” Francis abandoned his quest and returned to Assisi, and gradually withdrew into a life of prayer. His chivalrous dreams slowly transformed into a romantic search for God’ will. Was that the result of the trauma of battle or his long incarceration? Or was one of the side effects of illness or depression a thirst for a deeper relationship with God? Stress has many faces and can lead through trial to triumph, with God’s grace.
The rigors experienced by today’s military may far exceed those of the medieval soldier. The ‘glory of war’ that once impelled Francis to military service is now a distant myth. Those of us who have served in the military, as well as those of us in the mental health profession, have great concern for the impact of conflict on the modern soldier. As weapons, bombs and chemicals have become more sophisticated, the modern soldier is often faced with greater horror than their confreres of old. Hence, along with the physical harm so often caused by war, it is estimated that more than half of the veterans returning from combat today also suffer from some form of mental/emotional disorder resulting from it. In some cases this has lead to a variety of tragic results. Homelessness, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide are only the more obvious consequences. Depression, anxiety, mood changes, loss of interest in life and social withdrawal are symptoms that also need to be taken seriously.
For certain, Francis experienced a number of these symptoms as do today’s veterans. He withdraw from friends, spent time in isolation, acted strangely and even claimed to hear voices, all not unusual for a troubled soldier.
The human condition has not changed in the last 700 years. But Francis had a deep gift of faith which worked miracles. Those miracles can still happen today if we apply our faith in these trying situations. But it does not always come easily. Francis indeed had his supporters. God uses the love and compassion of others to extend His embrace.
As we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, let’s try to make ourselves more aware of our veterans in distress. A kind word, a listening ear and especially our prayers for those we know who need care can make a crucial difference in the lives of those who put their lives on the line for us.
Resources are available at The Veteran’s Administration at 1-800-723-8255 and the widely respected Wounded Warrior Project at 221-629-8881, for soldiers returning from battle. But too often we overlook the family members of these soldiers. They also need support.
If you are a returning vet or a family member of a veteran who returned from combat and you’re struggling, please contact us at: 855 4 A REMEDY. We also are offering a free support group for those located on Long Island, NY.
Above all, let’s not underestimate the power of prayer. Please remember to pray for these individuals who have given up so much at great personal expense for the rest of us. May our holy St. Francis intercede for hope and healing!
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