As a young child, I held aspirations of joining the military. I remember our imaginary play through back street alleys and vacant lots included re-enacting scenes from the latest war movie that we watched on television. We didn’t yet understand the gravity of war, nor did we comprehend the finality of dying on a battlefield. We would simply get shot by an imaginary bullet and play dead, rising to fight in the next battle scene.
This idealizing of combat as a child became tempered with the reality of the violence I witnessed in the streets of Philadelphia. As a teenager, I learned to have a healthy respect for the military, but I decided that war was not the answer to the world’s troubles. I learned that following Christ and becoming the voice, heart, hands, and feet of Jesus would abolish war and bring about peace. I still believe this even as war in Ukraine keeps escalating and the threat of war increases with regards to the geopolitics of Taiwan, China, North Korea and other areas in our broken world.
As a result, I thought it was interesting to research Saint George who was a Greek soldier for the Roman Army. Having reached a high rank in the military, one could say that Saint George was a professional soldier. However, he was a Christian first. Therefore, when Diocletian began enacting his hostility towards Christians, Saint George sought a personal interview with him. In other words, he used his rank and position to attempt to change Diocletian’s attitude towards Christianity. When that didn’t work, Saint George made a deliberate profession of his faith and denounced the persecution of Christians. Consequently, he resigned his commission, which led to his arrest. After enduring many tortures, he was executed on April 23, 303 CE.
Saint George realized that he was part of something greater than himself. However, the thing that was greater than himself was also greater than the Roman military and the emperor. He comprehensively knew that Christ, the Risen Christ, was greater than anything else in this world. And therefore, he belonged to Christ and not the emperor or military power. When Diocletian wrote his edict calling for the execution of Christians, Saint George read it with divine zeal then tore it to pieces as a sign of his own position. He would not allow anyone to harm those who believed in Christ. Hence, Saint George wages war with the proverbial dragon.
The legend of Saint George slaying the dragon can be a metaphor for us when we find ourselves juxtaposed to forces that go against our Christian faith. How do we stand up to such dragons, whether it is lures of the material offerings in our culture or our propensity for partisan politics? How do we stand and fight against the forces of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, agism, and any other force that lures us to despise our neighbor and in turn despise Christ? How do we stand up against the dragons that lurk throughout our world?
We can let nothing come between us and the love of Christ. Perhaps we even need to contemplate whether our own professional lives draw us toward the dragon that forces us to forgo Christ. In other words, we need to reflect on what are the things in our lives that pose as dragons? In the face of our dragons, whatever they may be, we must make a deliberate profession of faith and somehow become the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus.
This is easier said than done.
In the end, we most likely will not have to suffer death for our profession of faith. However, we will have to endure a death to self. When we profess our faith, we may have to choose between putting Christ first over our career, which may cost us promotions. We may have to choose between being one with Christ or one with the in-crowd. We may have to choose between our love of Christ and our love of money, prestige, and control. Do we use our rank and position as Saint George did to spread the gospel? Do we seek to confront the power elite who create policies or laws that contradict gospel values?
Answering these questions may require us to suffer a death. In other words, God may not call us to martyrdom, but God calls us to live Jesus by dying to the self. In the end, we slay the dragon that lurks in the darkness of our own world and become the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus, so we possess the heart of Christ. It takes personal conviction, the courage of Saint George, and the love of Christ.
[Image Credit: Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. via Flickr]