Dept. of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling News
By The REV. GEORGE MORELLI - For the North County Times | Sunday, April 12, 2009 7:07 PM PDT
"Faith under Fire"
Authors: Roger Benimoff & Ann Conant
Publisher: Crown Publishers
When we think of heroism in war, we usually think of a military figure, gun blazing, single-handedly holding off a barrage of charging enemies. Images of special forces come to mind. Low on any list of courageous members of the armed forces would be someone dressed in camouflage, but with a cross or Star of David on their lapel: a chaplain. In fact, chaplains are not allowed to carry deadly weapons.
As Chaplain Roger Benimoff himself states in his new memoir of combat service in Iraq, "a pocketknife was the most lethal object I was allowed to hold."
But this is what his book, "Faith Under Fire," written with Anne Conant, is all about ---- chaplains can be among the military's most courageous members. This is even more so because they do not carry weapons; they have only their faith in God and his will as their defense.
April is the first full month of spring, a time of deliverance from the gloom of winter. This year, for Christians, April is also the holiest festal period of the year. For them, the reason for the sanctity of this holy season is the triumphant joy of Christ’s Resurrection, a deliverance which followed the depth of forsakenness he experienced during his passion when he prayed while hanging on the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps 21: 1, Mt: 27:43).
Few realize this psalm’s closing verses end in the joyous hope in the reign of God: “Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn (Ps 21: 30-31)” Deliverance is also the theme of the Passover celebrated by the Jewish people-in April this year. After years of slavery God rescued His people from the domination of the tyrannical Pharaoh and led them into the promised land and redemption. Moses told the Pharaoh: “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness …’” (Ex 7:16).
Eastern Christians use the word Pascha for Easter. Pascha, is derived from Greek usage and is itself a transliteration of the Hebrew word for Passover: pesach. The words of Psalm 68 are relevant to both traditions:
“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God! But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy!” (1-3)
Download A Parent's Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Your Child printable PDF guide.
Do you notice that in today’s complex society there are some fearsome things that can occur? An immediate example, probably fresh in everyone’s minds, is the crash water landing of U.S. Air Flight 1549 an A320 Airbus in the Hudson River minutes after takeoff from La Guardia Airport, just a couple of months ago. Some people also feel they have to worry about the impending dire events that may occur in the future. Consider what Jesus said to His followers: “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” (Mt 6: 27). Solomon, king and prophet, respected by Christians, Jews and Moslems, the writer of the Book of Proverbs (12:25), notes: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down …” Particularly apt are Gandhi’s words: “There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.”[i]
Once again our spiritual ancestors lead the way in pointing out a solution to us “Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (Jn 5:17). And as St. James (2:18) counseled: “…and I by my works will show you my faith.”
Psychologists and business consultants have suggested lessons which can be learned from the disastrous plane crash and which can shift us from aimless worry to fruitful work. Clinical science terms this process “meta-cognition” (Flavell, 1976): thinking and ordering your own thinking and then practicing and regulating your behavior (or work).
Have you noticed that many people around you, including perhaps even a few of us reading this are greatly inclined to have people and events go “our own way.” What underlies this attitude is that situations not going our way are interpreted and perceived as awful and terrible, basically a catastrophe. If things do not go the way I want them to go or people do not meet my demanding expectations I can react with anxiety, depression or feel I have the right to be angry. Unfortunately, making the title of the popular Frank Sinatra song, “My Way,” the theme guiding our lives can lead to emotional and behavioral dysfunction, interpersonal conflict, at times, even lead to breaking of the law with legal consequences as well as to spiritual separation from God and man.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
From the outset, let's clarify three points. First, suicide is the deliberate taking of life and thus a serious sin. Second, nothing in the literature of behavioral research provides a clear understanding of suicide. Third, the mental confusion and emotional pain of the tortured soul who has taken his life (including those contemplating suicide) as well as the anguish and incomprehensibility of the act suffered by the surviving loved ones, is almost beyond human description.
by Fr. George Morelli
Do you notice that in describing the actions or behaviors of others, people usually tack on a label describing the person themselves. This is especially common when we observe someone making a mistake. As an example, we may say: “That is not the way to do it, you are wrong: You are an idiot.” In actuality some of the labels many use in describing others are quite a bit more ‘colorful’ than the word: ‘idiot.’
The problem is that label-words are abstract, ambiguous and carry surplus meaning. Such words then, can be misunderstood, frequently prompt harsh feelings and escalate into unfriendly exchanges. This was not unnoticed by the author of the Book of Proverbs who noted: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.” (Pv 10:19)
Use of label-words also betray a basic thinking error: circular reasoning. In this example the circular reasoning goes like this: How do you know the person is an idiot? By their mistake. What made the person make the mistake? The person is an idiot. A military-minded example would go like this: This is a fast bullet! What makes it fast? Because it is a fast bullet. Clear thinking involves breaking out of using the label word itself in explaining how it works. We know someone is mentally impaired when neuropsychological test results show cognitive impairment. Likewise, we can explain bullet speed by scientific analysis of bullet size, weight, powder burn, and bore length of weapon, etc. In the words of Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) of the 1950’s TV series Dragnet: “Just give me the facts, Ma’am.”
by Fr. George Morelli
For all practical purposes, Thanksgiving Day is the closest we come to a national holy day in the United States. Historically, it has been celebrated with everything from religious thankfulness, food, frolic and of course modern commercialism. Despite this, it is still a time for many Americans to ‘count their blessings’ and get together with family and/or friends.
Sometimes our approach to life stops us from ‘counting our blessings and giving thanksgiving to God. Psychologists call this pessimism.
by Fr. George Morelli
Sometimes we set up unrealistic goals and objectives for ourselves that are impossible for us to attain. This does not mean that we should not aim high, that is: to work at achieving all we are capable of achieving. In fact, this is an important motivating factor in our lives. However, failure will follow if we strive to attain goals that are of themselves unrealistic based on a true assessment of our talents. Unrealistic goals are barriers to achievement and in the end serve to block motivation and frustrate hard work.
By Fr. George Morelli
Many have heard of “random acts of kindness,” but how many of us take it seriously enough to make kindness a priority in our lives? St. Paul reminds us in Romans 11:22 that God's kindness returns to us, provided that we continue in his kindness. But some still resist.
By Fr. George Morelli
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We are partially responsible for creating a problem that need not be. For example we may encounter different life situations with the idea that it is a necessity to be loved or approved by significant people around us. If we don’t have this love or approval it is perceived as awful, terrible, the end of the world, and we respond with anxiety.
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli, Ph.D., A.B.P.N.
Among the military, suicide ranks as the “fourth leading manner of death for soldiers, exceeded only by hostile fire, accidents and illnesses,” according to figures released May 29, 2008 by the Department of Defense. And compared to previous estimates, “10 to 20 times as many soldiers have thought to harm themselves of attempted suicide.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24874573/)
Our brother, Fr. Stephan Close, the U.S. Air Force chaplain stationed at the airbase in Ramstein, Germany, shares with us the following observations of his very special and grace-filled ministry:
"Your Grace, one of the joys of my ministry here at 'the Ramstein of my repentance' is to serve the wounded. Rarely do I have the blessed obligation to honor the dead, which I offer with as much dignity as my humanity can muster. It is such a blessing to be at worship with the wounded faithful who look to the icons with eyes which cannot see and offer a candle though they remain in physical darkness, their hand guided by fellow warrior. They faithfully follow a Divine Liturgy (and wait patiently through a sermon) in a language they do not understand but whose form helps them recall worship and remind them of truth which warms their hearts though far away from home. They walk towards the chalice though one shoe has no foot in it. They bow down although they cannot rise without the support of their brother. They make the sign of the cross with a hand scarred and tortured by flame. Such are the saints you have sent me to serve.