At my church yesterday we celebrated All Saints Day. For those not familiar, this is the day where we honor the saints of the church and remember those who died in the last year. It’s one of my favorite services, if for no other reason than we sing some great hymns. Several of those make comparisons to soldiers and there is a notable line in one of my very favorites, For All the Saints: “Oh may thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold, fight as the Saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.”
What is a saint and why would we compare them to soldiers? I have been around service folks all my life and overt piety is not something one sees very often. “Churchy” characters are not as common as hard living ones. However, most definitions of a saint have some reference to a person of “exalted virtue.” That virtue often involved sacrifices – including the ultimate sacrifice – for others or their faith. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why we often think of saints as “true and bold” soldiers. Very often those who we recognize as saints have, in fact, fought quite nobly. Perhaps it was not in a military or conflict setting, but the sacrifice and selflessness is similar to what we see every day with military personnel.
Our service men and women make huge sacrifices to defend us. Many make the ultimate sacrifice. Many are scarred for life by physical and emotional wounds of their service to us. Many of them may not have been Christian or particularly religious, but the spirit of these individuals is almost always far from self-centered. They do what they do to protect our society. They do it for us. Perhaps that does not meet the criteria for canonization, but thinking of them as saints is not off the mark at all.