Often when I preach a funeral homily for a vet, I quote a verse in the hymn "America the Beautiful":
O beautiful for heroes proved / in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved / and mercy more than life!
America! America! / May God thy gold refine
'Til all success be nobleness / and every gain divine!In these times (probably in every time) it is difficult for people to affirm anything outside of them, let alone more than them. If there is anything outside of them, practically speaking its existence is worth only what it is worth to them. The process of maturity consists in accepting the relevance of persons and situations outside of oneself, and responding to them with the physical and spiritual resources at hand.
Now military service isn't by far the only venue where the maturity process is hastened, but it is a most effective one. Here as always, the Thomistic dictum applies: "Grace does not destroy but builds upon nature." That is why we doff our hats and raise our glasses at every worthy, life-altering human endeavor: marriage, ordination, religious consecration, parenthood, and all the rest. Parents, mentors, and instructors do their best, and then they unleash their charges into the world to have a go at it themselves.
It is hoped that, by that time in their formation, they have come to appreciate "more than self" whatever vocation or occupation they undertake, because that vocation or occupation will call forth from them numerous and ponderous sacrifices. There is only so much possible induction into that life of sacrifice before the way of life is formally accepted. This I know from experience, and I am sure that my many readers can identify.
What intentions guide their entry into this or that way of life? Is nobleness their vision of success? Are they seeking above all divine gains, and not only material gains? It is good to know that our intentions can be purified and clarified in time, though not without some storm and stress.