With the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden, we heard a lot about SEAL Team 6, the group of young American military men who swooped down on Bin Laden’s fortress, did their dirty work, and then disappeared into the night.
The United States Navy SEALs are the most elite combat force in the world. When I read about what it takes to become a SEAL, I was stunned by the cruel and grueling training the men have to go through. The “training” borders on torture.
Out of every 1000 navy enlistees who take the screening test to enter the SEAL program, only 15 pass the test (less than 2%). The men who make it into the program are the strongest, quickest, meanest men alive. The training, however, is so brutal that only an average of 4 out of the 15 who pass the initial test make it through to the end.
In his book Unleash The Warrior Within, former navy SEAL, Richard J. Machowicz, tells about how during one week of training, two of the men in his group had to drop out because of broken necks. Numerous other men routinely quit because of the brutal physical and mental abuse they were subjected to during training. During one part of their training, Machowicz told about how the men lost all concept of time because they were forced to stay awake for over 100 hours while they were subjected to extreme mental and physical conditions that were calculated to break their will.
There is a saying that every SEAL trainee learns to live by each day: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” They are taught that even though the training is cruel and extreme, it doesn’t come close to what they will actually experience in battle. SEALs take pride in the fact that even though a SEAL may die in combat, no SEAL has ever been captured or left behind enemy lines.
The acronym “SEAL” stands for sea, air, and land. A team of SEALs can attack and do battle in any environment and under the most extreme conditions imaginable. They are trained to fight and carry out sabotage and demolition projects in freezing water, in weather conditions in the arctic regions where the temperature can drop to 50 degrees below zero, or in a Middle Eastern desert where the temperature can reach 140 degrees during the day. SEAL team units were first used in Vietnam to counter the brutally ingenious Vietcong fighters.
After reading about the extreme sacrifice and suffering that is required before a man can call himself a navy SEAL, I thought about what kind of training would be necessary to become a SEAL-type Catholic (what we commonly refer to as a saint) – a Catholic who can do battle in any type of spiritual environment.
Unfortunately most Catholics don’t think in terms of what they need to do to become saints. Most of us are too caught up in the day-to-day struggles of living to think about what it is we should be doing to grow in holiness toward perfection and sainthood.
Periodically I’ll ask someone who I consider to be a devout Catholic to commit to one of the “hard” weekly holy hours (12:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.). I don’t ask unless I know the person has the ability to rearrange his or her schedule so he or she can “sleep-in” after the holy hour. I rarely encounter anyone who is willing to think about my request before responding. There is usually an immediate response that starts with a rejection and then an excuse.
One of the things that inhibits our willingness to sacrifice and become holier Catholics is that we have become accustomed to (and conditioned for) comfort. We have become so comfortable in our routines and habits that we don’t want to commit to anything that might cause us any discomfort; therefore, it becomes easy to say no to requests that may require sacrifice or self denial.
Generally speaking, those of us who went through the Catholic school system received a much better education than those who went through the public school system. Since we Catholics are better educated, we are in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in the marketplace, which in turn allows us to secure good paying jobs. As a result, we are able to live very comfortable lives with higher than average incomes. This causes us to become spiritually lazy.
If the physical conditions that we had to live under were much harsher and we were accustomed to making sacrifices, then more people would be willing to make the sacrifice necessary to commit to one of the “hard hours.” Instead I get people who worry about getting their 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. They’re more focused on how tired they’re going to feel, instead of what they should be doing to enhance their relationship with our Lord.
When I was a boy, my grandmother, Effie Williams, told me about how her father had to work two full time jobs at two different local foundries just to support his family. He would work 8 hours at one foundry, get off work, and then walk down the block to the other foundry to work another 8 hours. Most days, the only time my grandmother saw her father was when she took him his lunch and visited with him in the foundry lunchroom while he ate his lunch.
Now I guarantee you, it would have been easier to get my great grandfather to commit to a hard holy hour than it is to get most Catholic men today to commit. Another two hours of lost sleep each week wouldn’t have been a big mental hurdle for him. He did not have a comfort zone that he needed to protect. He was accustomed to making heroic sacrifices and denying himself the simple comforts that all of us now take for granted. In fact, he would have probably felt that an extra hour of prayer each week would help to lighten the heavy burden that was on his shoulders.
Of course, back then, heroic sacrifice and self denial were necessary just to get through each day. There was no indoor plumbing, hot running water, flush toilets, air conditioning, dishwashers, refrigerators, washers or dryers. Heat was provided from coal or wood burning stoves. There were no reliable drugs available to numb the pain when a dentist had to extract a tooth. (Ouch!)
Today even the poor among us live better than the kings and queens lived a hundred years ago.
I can almost hear the thoughts of someone when I ask for a commitment to take over one of the weekly (hard) holy hours: “But I’m going to be tired if have to get up to do a 3 a.m. holy hour. It will throw off my biological clock. I won’t be able to function the next day.”
I don’t know how my great grandfather functioned every day when he had to work two extremely physically demanding manual labor jobs – 80 hours each week – in the filthy, hot, ear piercing, dangerous environments that existed in the foundries at that time.
Even though I’ve been talking about comfort this whole time, I haven’t gotten around to mentioning anything about the time we spend on leisure activities – television, internet, movies, vacations, games, and social activities.
The SEAL motto is, “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” We need some Catholic SEALs for our adoration program (Sacramental Eucharistic Adorers Late at night). Our new motto could be, “The more we sacrifice on earth, the less we suffer in eternity.”
Would you be willing to volunteer to become a Catholic SEAL and commit to one of the hard weekly holy hours (12 a.m., 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m., or 4 a.m.)? Don’t get me wrong about this. Because of various circumstances beyond the control of some people (i.e., health, family, work), it’s not reasonable to expect them to commit to one of the hard holy hours. But there are a lot of Catholics who could and should commit to one of those hours.
Are you one of those people? Can you handle the sacrifice of crawling out of bed once a week for an hour to meet with your Savior?
If you think you can handle it, please call now and enlist in our elite group of Catholic SEALs.