Tag Archives: sacrifice

For God and Country

“Is this a joke?” the Navy recruiter asked Dr. Christopher Nessel. “We don’t usually get calls from physicians who want to join the Navy reserve.” Instead, calls would come in from men and women who want to become doctors and willing to serve their country in exchange for school tuition. Since Nessel was already a physician why would he want to join the military?

Nessel is now a Legate from the new Bucks County, Pennsylvania Chapter working in research and development at a large health care company. When he called the Navy recruiting office in 1996, it was no joke. It had been a lifelong desire of his to serve his country in the military.

As a young boy attending St. Anselm School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Nessel dreamed of joining the military. He also had a competing desire, however, to become a physician. By high school, his love of physics, chemistry, and biology pointed him in the direction of medical school.

Nessel graduated from Temple University School of Medicine in 1994. He trained in general surgery at Brown University. Yet, he did not feel his aspirations were complete yet. His desire to give back to our country in appreciation for so many opportunities remained as strong as it had been when he was a boy.

Inspired by uncle in WWII

Although career aspirations often develop out of admiration of childhood role models, there was none of that for Nessel. “I am the only physician in my family and no one in my immediate family was in the service,” he explained. “There was a paternal uncle killed in World War II and my parents gave me the middle name of Charles after him, but I knew little about him as a child.”

His uncle, Charles Nessel, was shot down over Europe as part of the Army Air Corps, which existed before the Air Force was created in 1947. “My uncle joined the service before his 18th birthday,” Nessel said. “It was the nature of WWII; there was a fervent patriotism then.”

Nessel had graduated from high school in 1981, a time when patriotic fervor in the U.S. had cooled somewhat, but he remembers being influenced by a love of country in grade school. “Serving our country was something viewed very positively and as an obligation,” he said. “ rough my life, in the same manner that we owe recompense to God, there has been the understanding of an obligation to our country.” He referred to the motto: pro Deo et Patria — For God and Country — as the inspiration for his own service.

A call to arms notwithstanding

The surprised Navy recruiter was pleased but cautious regarding Nessel’s interest to join. Reservists are obligated for 4 years of service, 1 weekend every month and a 2-week stint during the summer. More importantly, the recruiter wanted Nessel to understand that at any time, he could be called up and deployed to a dangerous part of the world.

“My situation was not unique,” Nessel said. “there would always be the possibility in the back of my mind that I could be called up. And this affects family members too. Everyone’s loved ones are affected when they serve in the military.” Nessel explained that in this way, families also make sacrifices and it’s harder for them in some ways because they don’t always know what is going on.

Nessel said he believes everyone should be willing to sacrifice in some way for our country in thanksgiving for all the freedoms we enjoy here. “When I think of my life as a practicing Catholic and the opportunities I had to go to college and medical school, there are blessings innumerable,” he said“. “There could be many ways to give back, but the way that was closest to my heart was to serve in the military. There are few privileges greater than wearing the uniform of an officer in the United States Navy.”

Regardless of the potential risks, Nessel never wavered— God and country came first. He was concerned, however, that his ongoing training in general surgery not be interrupted. In the reserves, short of deployment, it would not be.

Since the application process was lengthy—15-18 months— there was plenty of time for Nessel to change his mind. Right before he raised his right hand to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States as a Navy officer in 1997, he was reminded that his service could include deployment. Nessel took the oath and was commissioned a lieutenant.

Sole incentive: desire to serve

Being a physician in the military is somewhat unique from other service jobs, according to Nessel, specifically because it is not different from what he did as a civilian physician—treating sick people.

“Most people who serve in the reserves do something very different from their civilian work with some exceptions,” he said. “Say you are a tank mechanic; on the civilian side, there are no tanks.”

In 2000, Nessel was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He completed a total of 8 years of service which ended in 2005.

Nessel described his time in the military as modest because he did not get deployed. What was uncommon about his service, though, was that he enlisted with no scholarship or monetary incentive. Nessel’s sole purpose was to serve his country as a physician.

His siblings sometimes kid him that during eight years in the Navy, he never went to sea. “It’s true,” Nessel said, “but I had the distinct honor of wearing the uniform of an officer. That privilege is almost beyond words. In 2012, my then- fiancée asked me if I could be married in uniform.” He married Kimberly in 2013, in uniform. They are now the parents of 4 children.

Real perspective on heroes in uniform

Those years in the Navy gave Nessel a sense of the kind of men and women who are defending our nation. “ e men and women I met were not there for great pay, short hours and great living conditions,” he said. “ ey were there because they wanted to serve.”

Nessel quoted Admiral Chester Nimitz’s description on March 16, 1945 referring to the incredible sacrifice of the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima: “Uncommon valor was a commonvirtue.” That,Nessel said, is what he witnessed among the men and women who serve our country in the military.

Part of what Nessel said he admired was the fact that people were there to serve despite the common desire these days to want to be in charge. “In the military, it’s readily apparent from the lowest seaman to the highest admiral, that we were all there for service,” Nessel said. “It’s very impressive.”

Another thing that impressed him is that young adults are tasked with handling very expensive and important equipment. “They are given as much as they can handle in the service,” Nessel said. “It’s not usually like that in the outside world.” L

PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG is an award-winning author and Catholic journalist, TV and radio commentator, and mother of 10.


Love, sacrifice and honor

“I have given you an example,” says the Lord.

Jesus is the supreme example of humility, service and dedication selflessly given for the good of others. There is no one that has had a greater dignity than Jesus, and no one has served others so diligently.

Fr. Shenan Boquet

Every Christian is familiar with the powerful imagery in the fifteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Our Lord Jesus uses the lovely analogy of the vine and the branches to illustrate the life-giving love that connects every one of the faithful with Him, and with His Father, the vinedresser.

The stem and the branches form one single being. They are nourished and act together, producing the same fruits because they are fed with the same sap. United to Christ, we are made strong and are effective, giving direction and purpose to our daily works and dealings with others.

Jesus was preparing His disciples for what would be His ultimate gift to them, and to us, through the terrible events of His sorrowful passion. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). By His death and resurrection, He has set us free, becoming the source of our life and of the Church’s whole apostolate.

There are many lessons here for all of us, but for those who serve in the military and in public services where the duty is to protect others, the connection is especially clear.

Key to every first responder’s and every serviceman’s duty is the readiness to sacrifice his or her life for another. While it is true that any one of us could be called upon to sacrifice our lives should the moment come, relatively few of us have actually signed up to be in a position to do this as a matter of basic duty.

Firemen, police, military personnel and related professionals hold a position of honor in our society for a reason. The protector, thinking not of himself, freely risks his own life for the well being of another, usually a complete stranger. That’s the job. Some who serve in these areas never face a life-or-death situation; others see it far too often. The readiness to place one’s life at risk is what connects all such protectors and why they tend to grow such strong bonds of friendship and loyalty. After all, if you step into a burning building or return fire under great pressure, you are entrusting your own life into the hands of your partners.

These intense moments and shared mission create bonds that last a lifetime, and a love that those on the outside can’t understand.

This is a powerful human thing – the love that arises and grows from dramatic situations of great self-sacrifice. Very hard situations force us to look at reality and at what is most important. If we can do that with love and a readiness to die for the other, God can do incredible things through us.

We may lament at times, especially in those moments, that suffering is indeed the currency of salvation. We may not understand the mystery of God’s will, but we can grow to trust Him and His divine will, knowing that He will give us the strength we need, when we need it.

Here, in the reflection of the Savior Who gave His life for us, we see human dignity in its most raw incarnation. Why risk one’s life for another, even a stranger, if he or she is not a person, made in the image of God? In the moment when one’s life is truly at risk, and one chooses to step into the breach to stop evil or to protect a vulnerable person, there are no politics or fashion, no complaints or equivocations. There is only reality and love and sacrifice.

This is why those whose profession it is to protect others so intensely honor their fallen brothers and sisters. It is a function of love and of justice. They deserve to be honored. And those of us who benefit from our often-anonymous protectors owe a certain debt of honor and gratitude both to those who have fallen and those who continue to serve. They do not deserve our worship, but they do deserve honor and our profound gratitude. The best way we can honor them is to pray for them — for their safety, for their families, for the purification of their intentions. L

FATHER SHENAN J. BOQUET is the president of Human Life International and a priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, LA.

Love and sacrifice

Jesus taught that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. He proved this point by laying down his own life for every human being who ever lived.

Patrick Novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

The cross shows that true love is selfless; it seeks the good of the other first. Paul explained Christ’s teaching: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests” (1 Cor 13:4-5).

Blessed Mother Teresa went further: “Love, to be real, it must cost — it must hurt — it must empty us of self.”

In our day, there is no greater example of selfless and sacrificial love than in the men and women who protect our liberty here in the United States and throughout the Western world. Millions have freely given their lives to secure our independence from tyranny — and 1.3 million Americans currently serve in the armed forces.

In this issue, we salute four men who served us in the U.S. Army. (Click here for a related link.) While their experiences differ, their passion for service and the Catholic faith is a powerful witness. Two went on to become generals, one was wounded in battle, and the other helped clear minefields in war zones.

While most of us will never have the opportunity to serve in the armed forces, we are nonetheless called to a sacrificial love. And sacrificial love starts at home. Men are called to lay down their lives in service to their wives and children. Women are called to the same. Cardinal Raymond Burke said in a recent interview that “there is no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in marriage.”

We live in an upside-down world where certain evils are considered good and many good things — like traditional marriage and large, faithful Catholic families — are considered offensive. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that “the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

This is our world, and if we hope to turn the tide of the Culture of Death we must love in a pure and countercultural way. The early Church overcame massive persecution and changed the world forever by being a living witness to the sacrificial love of Our Lord. We can do the same if we abandon ourselves to Jesus Christ. There is no other way.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.