Why I Forfeited My Calling to Be a Military Chaplain

As a Catholic and a man raised in the institutions of the U.S. military, I have always discerned a possible vocation to the military chaplaincy. Initially, the discernment took place out of a sense of duty that all men of the faith should seek, but eventually, a profound love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and a complete dedication of the self to the salvation of mankind superseded the previous source of calling.

Spending over a year on the high seas, with the complete absence of a Catholic priest, reminded me of the grave importance of the military chaplaincy’s existence and the clerical membership growth of the Archdiocese of Military Services. I have witnessed firsthand the level of despair and personal confusion sailors experience every day while out at sea without the light of Christ. The lack of the sacraments, especially Holy Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation, leads the soul of a sailor on an inevitable path of decay, atrophy, and ultimate surrender to the works of the devil.

This unfortunate experience convinced me recently to answer the call to the priesthood, here and now, without any conditions or mental reservation. I was ready to abandon an illustrious and noble career in the naval profession to seek man’s highest calling. My application to the local diocese began, and I was on route to be a co-sponsored seminarian with the Archdiocese of Military Services. But I soon faced a dilemma, felt by many of the faithful of the younger generation, that would eventually prevent me from pursuing the military chaplaincy: I fell in love with the traditional Latin Mass.

In the summer of 2017, Sergeant Major Johnny Proctor, the III Armored Corps chaplain sergeant major and one of the founding members of the Fort Hood Traditional Latin Mass Community, wrote a letter to Archbishop Timothy Broglio for immediate assistance. The letter addressed the possible disbandment of the Fort Hood TLM community due to the current chaplain set to retire from active military service that same summer. SGM Proctor suggested a potential solution to address the liturgical need requested by active duty service members who desire to attend the TLM: allow traditional priests to join the military as chaplains.

Archbishop Broglio wrote in response that the solution could not be accepted since military chaplains must offer not only the traditional Mass, but the Novus Ordo Missae as well. His reasoning behind this argument is threefold. First, he writes that if only the TLM were offered onboard a warship or base chapel, the “legitimate liturgical expectations of all Catholics” would not be fulfilled. This judgment is based on the assumption that the majority of active duty service members serving today were raised in the Holy Mass as redesigned by the architects of the Vatican II–era liturgical council. Second, it would be impossible for all Catholic chaplains to learn and celebrate the extraordinary form, as many priests “would not understand the Latin.” Third, for a priest to exclusively celebrate TLM would suggest “something deficient in the ordinary form of the Mass.”

The counter-solution offered by the archbishop is for traditional priests who “sense a call to the chaplaincy to petition their superiors for faculties to celebrate the ordinary form of the Mass and sacraments — in addition to the extraordinary form.” This counter-offer is no solution at all. It lacks resolve and seriousness, as it is well known and established that the charism and mission of the traditional apostolic orders (e.g., FSSP, ICKSP, and SSPX) is to offer exclusively the traditional Latin Mass. To have the listed traditional societies compromise on this matter would undermine their existence and disconnect them from the roots through which they bear fruit.

This is not to state that the archdiocese is against the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, for the letter actually reinforces the Novus Ordo Missae argument: “The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite.” Rather, the archdiocese is in no hurry to embrace fully the apostolic letter written by former pope Benedict XVI.

Having served on active duty military service now for seven years, I have yet to attend or be made aware of a traditional Mass on any military installation. It is difficult to ascertain if this is due to a lack of clerical interest or diocesan seminarian training in the TLM or priestly self-censorship for fear of an unsympathetic congregation. Whatever the reasons are, there is no doubt that there would be no guarantee that Summorum Pontificum could actually be followed, in the fullest sense, by a priest in the Military Archdiocese.

The decision laid out by the archbishop, which continues to apply into the foreseeable future, brought me much pain and sorrow. It was clear through the archbishop’s letter and personal correspondence with the archdiocese that I could not be a military chaplain and a member of one of the aforementioned traditional societies. There are no words that can express the internal strife experienced by a soul forced to abandon a genuine good for the sake of another. I was ultimately left in a position either to pursue the path of military chaplaincy and dismiss my newfound, exclusive love for the traditional Latin Mass or to sacrifice the former, and, taking into consideration the loss of ministry to souls serving in the military, to dedicate my life to the promotion of the latter.

After months of personal reflection while on deployment in the South China Sea and through the generous advice of friends and teachers, I realized that my conscience would not allow me to turn my back on the ancient liturgy of the Church — the greatest treasure to exist in all of Western Christendom — and the means God used to stir up my renewed adoration of Christ and practice of the Faith. After witnessing such beauty and majesty in this rich liturgy, how could I revert?

There exists a growing movement within the Church today, a revival of the traditional liturgy: ever ancient, ever new. This movement, formed mostly by youths, directly challenges the overall declining church attendance of diocesan churches throughout America and Western Europe. When diocesan church buildings are left abandoned, it is the traditional societies who rescue and resurrect them from the ashes. Pope Benedict XVI observed in 2007:

Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.

As the traditional liturgical movement continues to grow in all fifty states, the Archdiocese of Military Services must realize that many of the nation’s future sailors, marines, and airmen will be raised in familiarity with and sometimes exclusive devotion to the TLM, such as myself. When that day comes, will the archdiocese be ready to accommodate this new liturgical expectation? I pray that it will and make ready now the reality that is to come.

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