True Glory Can Only Be Born of Pain

August 8, 2011

by Plinio Correa de Oliveira

From every side of the parade grounds, with habitual and quite natural enthusiasm, a huge crowd watches a trooping of the Queen’s Royal Grenadiers in their ceremonial uniforms.

New military tactics forced uniforms like these into obsolescence long ago. Nevertheless, these black trousers, red coats with white belts, gloves, and ornaments, and these distinguished bear-skin hats are preserved for higher moral ends: maintaining the tradition of the armed forces and showing people the splendors of military life.

Glory must be expressed in symbols. Indeed, God uses symbols to manifest to men His own grandeur. In this, as in all else, we must imitate God. Thus we see the Royal Grenadiers’ uniforms and their impeccably rhythmic and aligned marching. One senses the pride with which the standard-bearer carries the national flag and the troop commander indicates the direction of the parade. One can almost hear the beating of the drums and the sound of the trumpets. All of these symbols express the moral beauty inherent in military life: the elevation of sentiments, the willingness to shed one’s blood; the strength for striving, risking, and winning; the discipline, gravity, and heroism.

There is glory, and true glory, shining in this whole ambience.

But, is glory this, after all? Does glory consist in dressing in anachronistic uniforms, executing maneuvers having no relation to modern battle, playing drums and trumpets, and advancing with firm step to give oneself and others the impression that one is a hero? Does glory consist in advancing “courageously” on a field without obstacles or risks, launching attacks against a nonexistent enemy, with the only reward being the inebriating applause of a crowd?

Is this glory, or is this theatrics?

The young American soldier of the Korean War illustrates another aspect of military glory. Entirely immersed in the tragedy of armed warfare, he seems not to have a defined age; he has the vigor of youth, but his freshness and brilliance are gone. His skin, toughened by endless days under the sun and entire nights of wind and storms, seems to have taken on an almost leather-like firmness. He hasn’t the least concern about the elegance of his attire. His clothing serves to shield him from the harsh elements and to facilitate quick and agile movements, in mud, through thickets, over steep hills – all under the relentless action of battle.

Everything in this man is ordered towards fighting, resisting, advancing. The light of a smile is rarely seen on his face. His gaze appears to be fixed in ceaseless vigilance against men and the elements.

This man is not concerned with grand movements or theatrical gestures. He concentrates on the thousand details characterizing the real daily life of soldiers. He does not want to play a great role, showing off for himself or for others. He wants only the victory of a great cause. It is this which explains his seriousness, his dignity, and his will to resist.

Although permeated to his last fibers by great exhaustion and pain, his inflexible resistance of soul and body overcomes his weariness. He feels his pain vividly, but accepts it to its ultimate consequences out of love for the cause for which he fights.

This is the painful and perhaps tragic face of military life. Yet, this is where the merit is; this is where glory is born.

Beautiful uniforms, gleaming weapons, cadenced marching, great parades with trumpets and drums, endless applause of enraptured crowds – all of these are legitimate and even necessary appearances, but only to the extent that they express a desire for fighting and sacrificing for the common good. All of these would amount to nothing but theatrics were it not for authentic and proven courage, such as that of the Queen’s Royal Grenadiers.

True, these are considerations of a natural order. However, from them we may draw conclusions that reach a higher sphere.

The life of the Church and the spiritual life of each faithful Catholic are ceaseless struggles. Sometimes God gives souls admirable moments of interior or exterior consolation, and sometimes He gives His Church days of splendid, visible, and palpable grandeur.

However, the true glory of the Church and of the faithful comes from suffering and from fighting.

It is an arid fight, with neither palpable beauty nor defined poetry. In this fight, one sometimes advances in the night of anonymity, in the mud of indifference or misunderstanding, under the storms and the bombardment unleashed by the conjugated forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But this fight fills the angels of Heaven with admiration and attracts the blessings of God.

 

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