Fr Richard Heilman
February 12, 2015
Latin for “always faithful,” Semper Fidelis (shortened to Semper Fi) became the Marine Corps motto in 1883. It guides Marines to remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps, and to country, no matter what. Becoming a Marine is a transformation that cannot be undone, and Semper Fi reminds them of that.
This kind of unwavering dedication is exactly what Jesus meant when He gave us the criterion for enlisting in His elite fighting force: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk 9:23-25).
While sounding like a Marine Corps drill instructor, St John Vianney expounds on this radical call to discipleship:
“There is no doubt about it: a person who loves pleasure, who seeks comfort, who flies from anything that might spell suffering, who is over-anxious, who complains, who blames, and who becomes impatient at the least little thing which does not go his way — a person like that is a Christian only in name; he is only a dishonor to his religion, for Jesus Christ has said so: ‘Anyone who wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross every day of his life, and follow Me.’”
If we claim that we have fellowship with Him, and yet we walk in darkness, then we are lying and not telling the truth (1 Jn 1:6). Origen, in his commentary on this passage, writes: “No one can grasp the meaning of the Gospel unless he has rested on the breast of Jesus and unless he has received from Him Mary, who becomes his mother also.” Here we are identifying the entryway (or opening) into the Divine Life of God and the way of sanctification — It must be deeply personal!
Entrance into the Divine Life actually parallels the first day (birthday) of our Savior’s life in the world and the moment the newborn baby Jesus is laid in the arms of His mother, Mary. Imagine the scene … their eyes locked and through the windows of their adoring eyes, they peered into each other’s soul. What occurred was a bond of love, a semper fi “transformation that could not be undone.”
Throughout all of salvation history, we see such cries as “Let His face shine upon you” (Nm 6:25) and “Do not hide Your face from me” (Ps 27:9, 69:17, 102:3). This face-to-face, “look-me-in-the-eye” bonding is essential in understanding the necessity for making a semper fi connection with Christ. This kind of face-to-face encounter with God changes everything as it calls forth, quite literally, a transformation that cannot be undone. It marks a major shift away from a “face-in-the-crowd,” “Christian in name only,” “do-only-what’s-minimally-required” empty religiosity, into a totally dedicated (semper fi) loyalty in love that remains faithful to God, to each other, and to the mission, no matter what.
Pope John Paul II said, “Real love is demanding. For it was Jesus — our Jesus Himself — Who said: ‘You are My friends if you do what I command you’ (Jn 15:14). Love demands effort and a personal commitment to the will of God. It means discipline and sacrifice, but it also means joy and human fulfillment.” Mother Teresa said of love: “Love to be real, it must cost — it must hurt — it must empty us of self.”
“We have a tendency to think only about self-protection, safety, and avoidance of trouble,” says Fr. Robert Barron, “This tends to be our primary frame of reference. But God thinks relentlessly in terms of love, even when that love entails suffering. So, we ask ourselves, what is our final frame of reference? Is it, ‘How do I avoid pain?’ or is it, ‘How do I love?’ So, if I wake up every morning and my basic question is ‘How am I going to avoid pain?’ then I am going to live my life in a certain way — ultimately, a selfish way. But if when I wake up in the morning I say, ‘How do I love today?’ then I will live the life of a saint.”
Excerpt from Father Heilman’s book, Church Militant Field Manual