On April 22, 2008, two Marines were standing guard outside of a small barracks in Ramadi, Iraq. They had only been on duty for a few minutes when a large blue truck turned onto their street and started picking up speed as it prepared to ram through the gate. The two Marines recognized the threat immediately: 2,000 pounds of explosives meant to end the lives of 50 American Marines and 100 Iraqi police officers. The two Marines, knowing what was about to happen, stood directly between their sleeping brothers in arms and this suicide bomber and opened fire, killing the driver and bringing the truck to a stop immediately in front of them. The truck bomb detonated, killing both of the Marines and sending the truck’s engine through a building some two hundred yards away from the rest of the truck. Recovered security camera footage would shed more light on the last six seconds of their lives. As those two Marines faced certain death, they did not take one step back. They did not take one step to the side. They did not even shift their weight. They stood there, with Iraqi police running past them to safety, firing at the truck until it stopped. When interviewed about the attack, one Iraqi police officer said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”
So what does this have to do with being a Christian? Well, being a Christian, much like being a Marine, requires a certain kind of madness. Both demand the sacrifice of worldly pleasures and indifference in the face of death. Both require pain. Both require suffering. Just as no sane person would stand in front of a truck bomb and not even flinch, no sane person would wake up every day for the rest of their lives and give up power, sex, money, and all other manner of comforts and earthly pleasures. Not for some guy who was executed in some backwater of the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago. Unless, of course, that guy was actually God. And while those two Marines sacrificed their lives for an earthly kingdom which will inevitably go the way of the Roman one, we Christians will make our sacrifices for a heavenly kingdom which will last forever.
You see, while Christianity may require a certain kind of madness, it is the most reasonable madness you will ever find. This prayer by St. Ignatius Loyola is the prayer of the insane if it is not the prayer of the Christian:
“Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.”
To give and fight and toil and ask for nothing in return. Nothing. St. Ignatius does not even ask for the glory of heaven or the avoidance of hell, merely that he do God’s will. So, what makes the blind dedication of the Christian more reasonable than the blind dedication of a Marine?
The answer is a mystery, more specifically the mystery of the Cross. It is on the Cross that Christ, that God, suffered and died for our salvation. When his time came and he knew that there was only one way to save us, he did not step back. He did not step to the side. He did not even call down the army of angels he had at his command to save him. He chose to suffer. And when the Christian chooses to suffer, they first and foremost emulate God and grow closer to him, which is the whole point of Christianity. They also bring about the Kingdom of God, and thereby bring themselves and others closer to salvation, the other point of Christianity. If we are to act with madness, as we inevitably will, then let us act with the most reasonable madness there is. Let us act with Christ.