We used a lot of military metaphors when explaining the Faith. For example, we used to be called Soldiers of Christ, and we used to refer to the Church on earth as the Church Militant. Christ himself used military metaphors. In Caesarea Philippi, for example, Jesus declared: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) In olden times, cities built walls and heavily fortified gates to protect the people within from attack. With that as context, Christ was using military language to explain that if the Church attacks sin and error, she will succeed.
Sadly, one can search the Catechism but will no longer find the terms “soldier of Christ”, or “Church Militant.” It could be that there was an effort to soften the language after Vatican II so as not to be perceived as violent crusaders. But it is saddening because military talk paints more accurate imagery. For example, when angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, scripture refers to them as “a heavenly host,” (Luke 2:13) but that is a poor translation of the Greek where it is more of “a heavenly army.” The imagery helps us see angels as strong warriors in formation rather than soft cute cherubs randomly tumbling across lofty clouds.
Military metaphors can clarify our spiritual life and the sacraments too. In the baptismal rite, for example, the minister uses oil to trace the sign of the cross on the catechumen’s chest as a symbol of placing a breastplate there. It is symbolic of becoming a soldier in the spiritual life that was just received. So the term Soldiers of Christ makes sense because baptism makes us members of the Church – the New Jerusalem kingdom. (CCC §756) In a sense, we become soldiers because we are obliged to defend the kingdom, as well as expand the “territory” of our king through evangelization.
In the Sacrament of Confirmation we say we are given courage and strength. How does it do that? If we take this soldier metaphor further, we can see that we are equipped with weapons and protective gear: the gifts of the Holy Spirit –wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the loss of God. This is our spiritual arsenal for our mission in whatever role we have in the Church.
Taking it even further, soldiers need nourishment if they are to keep healthy and strong; likewise the Church has also always seen the Eucharist as “spiritual bread” that our spiritual life needs for sustenance and nourishment. Soldier-talk easily brings the concept of these three Sacraments of Initiation neatly together.
We can suppose military metaphors of the spiritual life will have to be handed down orally if it is to survive. To help us do this, we can remind ourselves that we have a “battle to fight” in our effort to evangelize, so let us conform to Christ – the warrior king who battled death and won. Let us make Mary our model for she is a warrior Queen who battles the dragon (in Revelation 12). Let us consider taking up our weapons of love and mercy, as soldiers who rally behind our king and queen, who are in a campaign to change the world.