As a veteran, reflecting on Veterans Day brings about many memories and emotions. And I struggle, as many of us do, to find words to adequately share experiences that are so often other-worldly. But as a veteran who is also a Theology teacher, I recognize a poignant intersection between the lived experience of a veteran and the moral ideals of the Christian faith that might bring something home to our Pope Prep family. That intersection is virtue.
As we have discussed quite a bit this year at Pope Prep, virtue can be defined as the habit of doing good. Virtue is not just a one-time decision to do the right thing, but an ongoing, grinded-out, series of choices to do the right thing – every day. Those consistent decisions develop into virtue when they become part of our character.
Reflecting on my time in the military, I was blessed to witness service men and women regularly incarnating the virtues of sacrifice, courage, and selflessness.
First of all, these men and women taught me the importance of sacrifice, the act of putting the needs of others before one’s own. From dealing with the consistent challenges of being away from home to risking or giving their lives on dangerous front lines, past and present troops have modeled self sacrifice. In Theology, we learn it from Jesus Christ, Himself, and we call it agape (self-sacrificial love). It’s the haunting type of love that when someone shares it with you, you are called to action. I witnessed agape in the troops and also in the profound sacrifice of their family members who pray, worry, and fill in for their courageous loved ones.
Speaking of courage, it is a cardinal virtue in Theology and prerequisite for military service. How many times did I witness young men and women courageously taking on responsibilities that were beyond their experience and completely outside their comfort zones? It was in this community that I learned to be a risk-taker, how to fail, and how to get back up. In this way, I think Veterans Day is not just for veterans but a day for all of us. While remembering the courageous acts of veterans, we are empowered to strive for the courage to defend, protect, and stand up for justice in the face of great adversity.
At the heart of military life is the virtue of selflessness. The belief in serving one’s country and fellow citizens intersects with the Christian call to serve one’s neighbor, especially the marginalized, poor, and disadvantaged. Some of the greatest joys of my military career came when we engaged in humanitarian aid for people suffering in dire poverty and people living in oppression by the powers over them. These experiences broke our hearts, emptied our self-absorption, and called us to greater empathy for the plight of others.
Today, as a Theology teacher, my goal is to weave these lessons and virtues into our daily lessons. Using the lives of Saints and other (often military) heroes, I try to emphasize to my students that virtue and holiness are only realized through putting in virtuous effort daily.
Today, let us pause and give thanks for the men and women who have paid ultimate sacrifices so that we may enjoy our many freedoms. Let us pray for the past and present troops who exemplify the virtues of sacrifice, courage, and selflessness. Let us pray for the courage to stand up for peace and justice for the poor and marginalized. And let us pray for the fortitude to live lives of virtue like the heroes who stand in harm’s way on our behalf.
Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us. Servant of God, Fr. Emil J. Kapaun, pray for us. Amen!
Tommy Lahey, Theology Teacher and Soccer Coach
Tommy Lahey is from southern Louisiana, where he graduated from LSU with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force. As a communications officer, he served troops and people in need in Texas, Hawaii, Saudi Arabia, and Germany before hearing God’s call to mission work. He then went to Franciscan University of Steubenville, coached soccer, and graduated with a Master of Arts in Theology and Christian Ministry. He has taught Theology at Catholic high schools in Louisiana and Kentucky but moved to Hendersonville in 2022 to be closer to family and teach at Pope Prep. He is married to a beautiful, generous, loving wife, Cara, and they have three remarkable kids: Zoe, Leo, and Silas.