Up Front and Personal

Serving God and Country: A Veteran and Priest

Father Mark Bristol is seen with a friend and brother veteran of the Jewish faith at this year’s Memorial Day Parade in Douglaston. (Photo courtesy of Father Bristol)

By Father Mark Bristol

Veterans Day often follows Election Day, a privileged freedom that our nation’s veterans have fought to preserve. On Veterans Day, we humbly acknowledge that we can never serve our nation’s veterans in quite the same way that they have served us.

This Veterans Day marks the 100th anniversary of the end the First World War, also known as the Great War, a war that was supposed to end all wars. It reminds us that we still have much work to do in upholding the value and dignity of human life and preserving peace.

As a veteran of the United States Navy, I take pride in my military service. I joined the Navy when I was 17 years old and it was the best experience of my life. It took to me to places I would have never been. It taught me lessons that I would have never learned. It helped me find my vocation as a Roman Catholic priest.

In the Navy, I discovered that I was a part of team, a legacy, an unbroken line of men and women who carried out their duty to preserve and uphold peace – not just on the battlefield, but also among each other, in their workplaces, their homes and in their hearts.

Only in the military will you find Americans from different parts of the nation, with different backgrounds, races, religions, political ideals and economic status working together as one unit. In boot camp, we all quickly learned that only color that mattered was the color of our uniform. We put  differences aside and worked together as one team.

When I heard the news of the massacre in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, the total disregard for human life and religious freedom hit close to home. I served on a naval base a few miles from the Tree of Life Synagogue. I worked alongside many Jewish military service members. There was no place for anti-Semitism, racism or prejudice because of what we held in common: our uniform and the Divine command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

As we approach the 11th day of the 11th month, 100 years after the end of the First World War, let us ask the Prince of Peace to remove all prejudice, hatred and division from within our hearts. Let us pray for peace: peace for the souls of the faithful departed who have served our nation; peace for those veterans still living today who carry the scars of war on their bodies and spirits. Pray for peace for those veterans who remain held as prisoners of war or are unaccounted for and missing in action.

We can never serve our veterans in quite the same way they have served us, but we can try by defending and upholding the value and dignity of every human life regardless of race, religion, sex, economic status or political party. We can try by showing love for God, our country and our veterans by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Father Bristol currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Anastasia parish, Douglaston.

One thought on “Serving God and Country: A Veteran and Priest

  1. A great priest and veteran! I’m proud to call him a friend. His smile and love of God is contagious. Soon to be a Navy Chaplain he follows in the footsteps of our Servant of God/Medal of Honor recipient Navy Chaplain Father Vincent R. Capodanno M.M.

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