by Matthew Higgins, Assistant to the Vocation Director
One of my favorite movies of all time is “Glory,” a 1989 film depicting the first formal unit of the Union Army during the Civil War that was comprised of all African-American soldiers. Not only is it a compelling and moving true story, but the movie speaks to the importance of courage and being able to forge ahead in the midst of struggle. This movie illustrates the many struggles these men faced during the time of the Civil War. It is hard to imagine or visualize what life must have been like for these men. The movie highlights both the internal and external struggles of the unit and how they overcame various obstacles. From not being treated equally through pay and rations, to not having a chance to prove themselves on the battlefield, the unit began to work together as a team under the servant-leadership of their white commanding officers-earning the respect of others and proving their worth.
One of the most moving moments comes towards the end of the film when the regiment is faced with what would prove to be an impossible task of overcoming a Confederate Fort. As the regiment’s commanding officer readies his troops for battle, he points to the color guard holding the flag and says, “If this man should fall, who will lift the flag and carry on?” Another soldier bravely steps forward and courageously states, “I will.”
Although it was considered a great honor to carry the colors and flag of your unit and country, it was a great risk. To carry the flag in battle was to put a target on your chest. In the midst of gun smoke, explosions and utter chaos of battle, the flag is what held the unit together. The flag was the guiding star, which told you to keep advancing or retreat. If the flag fell, the unit could easily be disbanded and defeated, thus the constant need for someone to carry it. The enemy, knowing all of this, would aim first for the color guard and then for the commanding officers seeking to destroy the entire unit. And so, the importance of carrying the flag was unmatched. This can be likened to the spiritual battle the Church is facing today.
In our world today, to bear the colors of being Catholic isn’t always easy. Sometimes the Catholic Church can be a target for jokes, biases, and, in more extreme cases, deadly persecutions. The enemy aims for those who carry the flag. He tries to take out those who may lead others closer to Christ. This is not said to scare you; do not be afraid. It is all the more reason to have faith, have courage, and lift up the banner of Christ and His Church; lift up the banner of Christ’s glory and carry on. It is in the times of great persecution that the Lord raised up remarkable men and women to carry on—we refer to them as Saints.
For priests, putting on the collar each day is an even more visible and outward sign of his dedication to Christ and His Church. They literally bear the flag of Christ. Yet, due to a societal stigma that has been placed upon the Church and her priests, there are fewer men stepping forward to lift that flag and carry on. For instance, it isn’t always easy for a young man to tell his parents or friends that he is considering priesthood—they are afraid to make that public declaration and often they do not pursue the call. Unfortunately, this leads to what many dioceses across the United States and throughout the world are experiencing, a shortage of priests.
In fact, as more and more priests reach retirement age or pass away, the Church in some areas is witnessing a decline in the number of priests available for ministry, forcing good priests to hold numerous assignments. In this area of New Jersey, there are some parishes with only one priest. In other areas of the country, some priests must oversee more than one parish. Priests often hold many responsibilities through parish assignments, chaplaincies, and administrative assignments. Being the one who is called to lead God’s people through their spiritual battles and draw them closer to Christ, the enemy, of course, will attempt to make the priest fall. It certainly is not easy to carry this flag, yet these men have been called to do just that and manage to do so in remarkable ways.
The Church and the world need good priests. Like the soldiers depicted in the movie Glory, we Christians certainly have internal and external struggles. We have obstacles that we face on a day-to-day basis. The enemy tries discourage us by turning our attention to the abundance of negativity found in our world. He clouds our minds with doubt, judgment, and fear. Yet the Lord tells us time and again to NOT be afraid. He calls each of us to pick up His cross and follow Him. Could God be calling you to pick up the flag of His priesthood and carry on in the footsteps of the many great men who have gone before you, leading others to His glory through the spiritual battles of their lives?
If God asks you, “Who will lift the flag and carry on?” do not be afraid to courageously step forward and say, “I will. I will be Your priest”