There was a soldier on an island in the Pacific during World War II wishing he was home and anywhere but there. His military unit had been on that beach for over a week. They were staging for a big offensive against the heavily dug in Japanese.
This wasn’t the soldier’s first rodeo. He had been in several tough fights and knew that this one was going to be no different and probably worse.
Engrossed in his thoughts, the soldier didn’t see the army’s priest walked up to him. The priest had sought him out knowing that the soldier was a Christian, practiced the Catholic faith, and would soon be ordered to advance into battle.
The priest took his pastoral role very seriously and always tried to visit with soldiers before they were ordered into a fight. This day was no different and by the pale anxious face of this soldier, the priest thought that the kid could use some company and sat down.
The priest looked at the boy and asked him if he was ready for confession. The young man’s head reared back from the force of his laugh as he responded, “Father, I have been on this beach all week, I have had no opportunities to sin.” Well, the priest thought about that and asked the soldier if he was sure. The soldier was certain that the tally sheet of his soul was clean, at least for that week.
The priest wasn’t born yesterday, nor did he look like it, and knew that there were plenty of ways for young men to offend God when they were all gathered together far from home with nothing to lose and no promise of tomorrow. The priest nodded and asked the soldier, “Is there anything that I can do for you?”
The priest did not have to wait long for the soldier’s answer. The young man blurted out that he feared his luck was running out. He’d seen too many friends die. Soldiers that were stronger, smarter, better-trained and more faithful than he, had, had their numbers called. He explained to the priest that with each battle, gun shot, artillery or grenade blast his fear grew. Battles were becoming harder not easier. His courage had been used up and was gone. So, yes, there was something the priest could do for him…could he have some courage?
The priest thought about the young man’s request.
He told the young man that everyone is afraid to die…even priests and good Christians. Only the untruthful would say otherwise and bearing false witness is a confession-able sin. The priest reminded the soldier about the many times he had seen the priest under fire in harm’s way on battlefields ministering to the wounded, dying and performing last rites for the dead. Right out in the open. The priest told the soldier that there are times when he is practically paralyzed with fear.
Everyone feels fear the priest told the lad. Especially in situations that are dangerous or life-threatening. If someone tells you they are never afraid….they are lying. The brave and courageous are not fearless, they have just learned to control their response to fear.
The priest then told the young soldier how he finds courage in the face of death. He repeats the Bible verse, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me.”
The soldier took the priest’s advice.
During an interview on television sporting a lopsided grin the soldier remembered repeating that biblical phrase hundreds, if not, thousands of times before the end of the World War II…which he survived.
The Twenty-third Psalm, that the priest provided to the soldier, is probably one of the most well-known verses of the Bible. It was written thousands of years ago by King David…a brave and courageous soldier. King David knew what it was like to be young, on a battlefield facing death. However, the circumstances do not matter, King David’s poetic words have given generation after mortal generation peace, reassurance, hope and courage.
Psalm 23: 1-6
23 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord