A Comparison Between Church and Military Symbols

saint, joan of arc, church militant

saint, joan of arc, church militant

This article is the fourth in a series called, “The U.S. Military and the Catholic Faith: A Comparison”, which examines the comparisons between the U.S. Army and Catholicism. Throughout my articles, I use the word ‘military’ loosely. I focus on the Army because I am a soldier and grew up through the ranks of the enlisted side. In fact, when I get to Heaven Saint Peter’s going to say, “How’d you earn your living boy?” and I’m going to say… “Army Cadence” and reference Matt 16:19:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

American Symbols

There are many symbols used in the military. First and foremost is the American flag. We do not have to go very far to understand what the flag represents. The American Flag reminds Americans of all who have died helping us keep our freedom. Back in the Revolutionary War, the drummer boy was marching on flag detail; if they were shot and the flag fell someone else would pick it up. It was important to those on the battlefield to actually see the flag as they fought. The flag served as a rallying point, a symbol which instilled courage and spurred the men to continue their fight for freedom.

Sadly, some people may look at the flag negatively because of the actions of a few. Others blame the government for certain actions (not understanding the intentions behind the government) and have even mistreated American symbols like the American flag. This was especially evident during the Vietnam War protests.

However, the American Anthem which is sung before sporting events always seems to stir a feeling of pride and patriotism in Americans, especially during world competition like the Olympics. When people sing this symbolic national anthem, people forget any criticism they have about the government. The symbolic words stir feelings of pride by touching deep patriotic roots.

The Star Spangled Banner

Oh, say! can you see by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming;

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

Symbols have the power to evoke patriotic feelings and a sense of pride, especially for the men who serve in the military. The flag helps remind those in uniform, who salute the flag, why they are serving in the military. In a very similar way, Catholics get questioned about the Churches symbols such as the crucifix. Christ is our Lord and Savior. He told us all to pick up our crosses daily, right? (Luke 9:23). But by the use of the crucifix is a reminder as well as what He did for us.

In a very similar way, Catholics get questioned about the Churches symbols, especially the crucifix. Christ is our Lord and Savior. He told us all to pick up our crosses daily, right? (Luke 9:23). The crucifix is a reminder as well as what He did for us.

Statues

Both the military and Church make use of symbols like statues but it doesn’t mean they are idolized; they provide a means of showing respect and serve to remind people about those held up as role models. Think of when you see the Statue of Liberty, the Thomas Jefferson or the Lincoln Memorial as well as the Washington Monument. These were historical people, Presidents of the United States. We don’t worship them but remember their story. Even before people could read and write, paintings helped tell the stories of the saints. In a similar way, stained glass in medieval Churches related the Gospel stories to the mostly illiterate parishioners. Statues and carvings also conveyed the core of Catholic teachings without words. Even today, in our daily lives, many people have pictures of their family, friends, loved ones on their phone, computer or in a photograph in their wallet. It doesn’t mean they love and worship the paper it is printed on or the electronic device in which it is being shown. These portraits are symbols which are pictorial references of what and who are important to us.

Sacramentals

Within the Church, there are several sacramentals we use which are even more than mere symbols. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them, men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” (1667).

Some people who are not part of the Church ridicule them. For me, this is a form of ignorance. Just like certain badges and awards which a service member wears on his uniform. To the average person, they more than likely won’t know what it means. The badges and awards which are worn on uniforms are based on the rank of the individual who is allowed to wear it (e.g. Recruiter, Drill Sergeant, Airborne or Air Assault badges, Expert Infantry Badge and so on), but they are usually worn because as symbols of accomplishment. Individuals are proud to show others and remind themselves of what they have done.

This is the same way Catholics wear a crucifix. This can be compared to why a Catholics wear a crucifix or carry a rosary. Sacramentals remind them of who they are and what they are striving towards, what they are living for. The sacramentals don’t have magical powers but they give a sense of security and a connection to people in Church history. In the Acts of the Apostles:

“God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.              (Acts 19: 11-12).

The handkerchiefs and aprons were blessed, like holy water and were sacramentals. The Catechism explains sacramentals:

“For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.”176

When a devout Catholic wears the brown scapular, the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, they feel honoured to wear the sign of the servants of the Blessed Virgin; it reminds them of the words she spoke to St. Simon Stock: “ This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone wearing this habit shall be saved.” This is similar to the Army’s Audie Murphy club. Once you are a member, you receive a medallion and wear it with pride. This symbolizes a heroic figure but also gives you a sense of motivation and values to live by.

Conclusion

Symbols, statutes, and sacramentals existed in the beginning of our nation, at the beginning of the Bible, and the early Church.

God gave Moses direction on how to make the Ark of the Covenant “He made two cherubim of hammered gold; at the two ends of the mercy-seat he made them, one cherub at one end, and one cherub at the other end; of one piece with the mercy-seat he made the cherubim at its two ends. The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy-seat with their wings. They faced one another; the faces of the cherubim were turned towards the mercy-seat.” (Exodus 37:7-9).

These types of Cherubim’s appear again when King Solomon is building the temple in 1 Kings 6:23-37.

Throughout the years, the military and the Church both have used symbols to make visible values and truths which are invisible thus reminding and inspiring people to live them out in their daily lives.

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7 thoughts on “A Comparison Between Church and Military Symbols”

  1. As an add on, the many Regimental wards named after Saints: Honorable Order of Saint Barbara, Order of Saint Titus, and the Order of Saint Martin of Tours.

  2. I assume , Brandon – that if your superiors order you to kill someone, you will do it – unquestioningly. Is that so?
    If they say to you, ” Blow up that house over there,” will you ask, “Why?”
    While we are at it, would you “waterboard” anyone, if ordered?

    1. I have crawled through the trenches of my desk and the
      avoidance of my family and work to inform you, I haven’t fallen, only dodging redundant
      questions like the draft as some people may have. The question(s) you state is
      nearly reworded from previous discussion comments. I don’t really appreciate
      your comments, as well as you should be doing some homework on what the Geneva convention
      is and you should pay even less attention of what the media portray on the
      television and look up what the situational rules of engagements are for each
      campaign in battle. Those soldiers who do go against these rules do get punished,
      we are in a newer military. I understand there are those soldiers who have done
      bad things, which gives the military a bad example, and yet even worse the
      leaders ignored the problem. I understand that reflection on the modern day military,
      but same goes for bad priest in the church, that action taints the whole Church
      and it gets ridiculed for it. But that doesn’t mean the Church (the bride of
      Christ) is bad, right?

      I will say stated previous comments that EPWs are
      treated better than U.S. POW’s. I never once water boarded anyone, I have other
      hobbies. But, yes I do follow orders, do you? or do you not work or maybe you’re
      the boss or maybe you don’t like the government so you don’t work and yet you
      could be the one who likes the government assistance or maybe your retired or
      maybe you have an inheritance from a relative?

      Did not the Jews follow orders to their earthly kings
      when enslaved in Babylon, then with the help of Ester they were redeem, well at
      least not killed? And yet Mortdecai still followed God. Now if you don’t appreciate those who have fallen for your freedom
      on this Independence Day, I feel sorry for you. You should pay more attention
      in Church and not judge or ridicule those you don’t even know and even give
      more respect to those who you may feel offended by. I forgive you for being
      bias. I tolerate a lot of people who don’t appreciate me, but it isn’t me they
      are directing, it is the uniform, the military, the U.S. they are upset at and
      yet since I am human being, they attack me. What did I do to you except help
      provide for your freedom? It is my
      pleasure to serve those who don’t appreciate, because they are the ones that
      need it the most. Just as Jesus said, “I haven’t come to call the righteous, but
      sinners.” (Lk 5:32) or it isn’t the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. And
      yet, we are all sinner and fell short of the glory of God. (Rom 3.23). So with
      this in mind, Jesus also stated, “Why do you look at the speck
      of in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
      (Matt 7:3).

      I will ask you this, what are you
      here for on this site, to learn from others or to be judgmental of their
      opinions and feeling that one may go through? Are we all not all hopefully strong
      practicing (Catholic) Christians? We all go through dark times; you should read
      unless you have already the Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross.

      I will give you some advice I am sure
      your parents or guardians taught you, if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say
      it at all. – And with that peace be with
      you.

    2. “..if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say it at all. “
      Some unpleasant things simply need to be said, Brandon. You may come, with age, to realize that. I bothered to write to you because I’ve often wondered how it was possible to reconcile being a Christian with being a soldier. I’m still none the wiser. Seems to me only the Quakers have got it right. But there’s clearly no point in pursuing it. Peace be with you, too, though that’s an odd thing to wish a man of battle – it would put you out of a job. And peace to Iraq…or what’s left of it.

    3. Jesus praised the Centurion. As Scripture clearly states, Jesus and Saint Paul placed Soldiers at the highest levels of faith. This understanding has been stated by Saint John XXIII (former military Chaplain), Pope Paul VI, St John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis (along with many other Popes and Saints). Others who have supported service members, their families, and Chaplains include Saint Francis, Thomas Merton, and yes-even Dorothy Day. Toad, you obviously are not familiar with scripture, US military service and the code of ethics we follow, or war and peace in the Christian tradition.

    4. “Jesus and Saint Paul placed Soldiers at the highest levels of faith. “
      “The highest levels,” Daniel? Where? Give me a “for instance,” if you will. I don’t disbelieve you.
      A soldier’s job is ultimately to kill people on command. Right?. That’s simply not a very Christian attitude to me.
      But then I’m not very Christian myself. So all those names only confirm my suspicions that Catholics are a bloodthirsty lot..

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