Only once have I really punched someone in anger.
It was a childish expression of frustration and the reprisal was one that kept that outburst of violence to a one-time event. In general, I am a fairly patient person, I believe, and while I might get annoyed or angry, I am often slow to act on those emotions.
Yet I’ve always wanted to be viewed as strong. I’m not tall and I probably don’t look very intimidating. Despite that, it is a desire of mine to be seen as fiery. The punch I threw in my youth didn’t end well, but I sought to prove my strength in other areas. In an elementary school gym class, we were challenged to do as many push-ups as possible. Due to my slight frame and sheer grit, I completed push-up after push-up until my arms quaked each time I neared the floor. When I finally stopped, only one other person was still going.
As kids, my dad would challenge us to completely unfair wrestling matches. Being six or seven and taking on a fully grown man did not present balanced odds. However, I clearly remember wrestling matches where my dad only needed to use one arm or a leg to pin me down as I relentlessly squirmed to get away. Finally, I would concede defeat, but only with flushed face and worn out limbs.
This desire to be strong was evident from my youth and yet it found expression in various ways as I got older. Physical prowess was never going to be my gift and so I exercised strength in witty replies and intellectual knowledge. But I still wanted to be viewed as strong and I had this indomitable longing to be a soldier. I have a fight in me that needs to be revealed in some way. It means that while I “hit like a girl,” I still punch my dad in the shoulder every time I see him. And while I’m not a fan of conflict, I enjoy a good argument or discussion when I’m in the mood.
At my nephews’ wrestling tournament the other day, I saw a woman in army fatigues. The strength that her outfit symbolized was something I desired for myself. Which, naturally, means I went home that night and casually perused the Army National Guard website. I imagined what it would be like to join the military and how that could impact my life. I don’t really want to fight someone, but I want to fight for something.
It came full circle, it seemed, when I sat today at a Confirmation in the beautiful Cathedral. As the bishop spoke to the young men and women about to be confirmed, I heard him speak about how this wasn’t primarily about the successful completion of a religious education program. No, I considered, it is a commissioning as soldiers for Christ.
This battle that I long for, this fight I have within, and this oddly fierce desire I have to be a soldier is found fulfilled in the Christian life. Yet too often I reject the battle I am given as I foolishly pursue some idealistic, imaginary battle. The battle of prayer is one that takes serious fortitude and strength to maintain. The fight to be loving in my words and actions is one more significant than rigorous Basic Training. If I have the courage to accept my commissioning, I will be active in the most intense battle of my life.
Ven. Jan Tyranowski is someone I’ve felt a close affinity to ever since I heard about him. He was a tailor in Poland when the Nazis sent most of the active priests in his town to concentration camps. While not a priest or formally trained in Theology, he heeded the call to form the young of that town, despite the risk it posed to his life. He started underground prayer groups called the Living Rosary. Generously giving of his time, he personally formed the leaders of these groups by guiding them in the spiritual life. This impacted them so immensely that ten of these men went on to become priests. One even continued on to become a pope. Today, we would call him Pope St. John Paul II.
If Jan Tyranowski had looked for a different battle than the one placed in his lap, he wouldn’t have made the impact God was preparing him to make. Jan was quiet and shy. He only took charge of prayer groups because one of the priests asked him to do so. His battle was not one of outward strength or fierce fighting. Yet in prayer he was a skilled warrior and he was a graced commander for the troops entrusted to his care. St. John Paul II said of Ven. Jan Tyranowski, “I saw the beauty of a soul opened up by grace.” Another member of the group said that without the influence of Jan, neither he nor St. John Paul II would have become priests.
He was one of those unknown saints, hidden amid the others like a marvelous light at the bottom of life, at a depth where night usually reigns. He disclosed to me the riches of his inner life, of his mystical life. In his words, in his spirituality and in the example of a life given to God alone, he represented a new world that I did not yet know.
This fellow melancholic entered into the fray when he stayed home and reached out to those he could. It wasn’t a battle that exhibited great exterior strength and his efforts were largely unknown during his lifetime. The battle came into his life unbidden and he accepted his role in the struggle.
I desire the grace to do the same thing. I find myself wanting to jet off to a real battle or envisioning a future vocation where I will beautifully live this counter-cultural fight in a marriage and family. But right here, right now Christ is calling me to enter into this battle as a soldier through the power of prayer and the strength found in faithfulness.
Please pray that I say “Yes.” Pray that I am strong.