The title of this page arises out of my experiences in life, and not necessarily from anything I’ve read. My experience was gained in the U.S. Army, where I served from 1970-1973. In 1972 I was in Germany in support of a military headquarters at that time in Munich. I was off duty and decided to go to a nearby German pub. While there I was enjoying a beer with a military policeman. After one beer at least, he felt open enough to share a disturbing story.
He had served recently in Vietnam, a war which did not end until 1975. He may have only been in Germany for several months. It was that recent. Anyway, he was serving on an infantry base, and after a period, wanted to leave. He received permission and left for a week. When he returned, he discovered to his shock, that everyone on the base was dead. In his absence, the base was overrun by a North Vietnamese military unit. While telling me this story, I could not help but notice the sorrow in his face. Perhaps it was more than sorrow. I feel now that the emotions he felt could be characterized as nothing short of complex. What else can one feel in going though such an experience? Anger? Sure. Guilt? Perhaps.
The next series of questions would have to deal with my response? How should I respond to this story? I was only 19 or 20 years old. I wasn’t a priest yet. I had zero training in any sort of counseling. I would not even take my first University course in counseling until at least three years later. I suppose I could just drink my beer and listen. I did learn from various sources years later that sometimes people just need to talk. One doesn’t always have to “do” anything with people and their stories in life. Nothing concrete anyway, outside of simple listening. However, I found myself rejecting such a decision on behalf of something more active. It was intuitive. At least I think so now. I brought him to church. I would pray with him. He was open to the idea, so I acted on it. He didn’t even know where the base chapel was. That’s ok. He didn’t have to know. I knew, and I brought him there. While inside, I showed him around and explained the symbolism as best I could. And we prayed. Well, without any exaggeration, I would have to say that his mood completely changed. He smiled. He exclaimed, according to my interpretation now, that he found what he needed. He would rely on the strength that he now found, in prayer and on what Christ could give him.
So, my impromptu decision worked. Without any formal training I could create an experience that brought peace to another human being. And as the title to this pastor page indicates, I believe that there was nothing special in my story that needed me to do- that only I could do. Anyone could do this. Anyone can listen to someone’s tough story of sorrow, of horror even, and pray with them. And the reason why I say this is because anyone can pray with another human being and or, as some people state these days, communicate God to him or her. We, all of us, already have the background. We are all baptized and then some, more than likely. If you are reading this, you are somewhat faithful to Mass attendance, and by simple doing, have an experience with prayer. That’s it! See! You have all you need. It was all I needed, after all. Yes, we are all ministers!
Peace, Fr. Walter