It is life’s unpredictable events that reveal our character the most. When life pushes us against a wall and threatens to take everything from us, it is our response that tells the truth about our soul.
When life is easy, we can talk a big game about our values and virtues. It is in the hardness of life–suffering, trial, and difficulty–that lays bare our innermost self, tearing off the masks we wear in easy times to reveal our true face.
On Sept. 29, 2006, Petty Officer Second Class Michael A. Monsoor of Navy SEAL Team Three revealed his character and showed his true face.
In Ramadi, Iraq, at the height of violence between United States forces and the insurgency, and less than one week when he was slated to go home, a live grenade bounced off Michael’s chest.
It was thrown by insurgents onto his rooftop sniper position where he, three other SEALs, and eight Iraqi soldiers were providing overwatch security.
He was sitting closest to the staircase and a quick dive to the side would bring him to safety. Michael Monsoor, however, was not looking out for himself, but for his brothers next to him.
In one sudden and terrible moment, without time to deliberate, Michael Monsoor flew out of his chair so hard it crashed against the far side of the rooftop and dove upon the fragment grenade, taking its full force into his body and saving the lives of the men with him.
Shrapnel still hit two of his fellow SEALs, but both credit him with saving their lives.
One said, “He never took his eye off the grenade- his only movement was down toward it.”
At the level of split-second decisions, humans prove the saying:
No one rises to the occasion, but falls to the level of their training.
We all imagine ourselves as the hero, and with no prior effort, we become as courageous and selfless as the situation demands of us, but that just is not true.
We react in the moment with how we have trained, and this is as true in moral virtue as it is in military skills and tactics.
The virtues are cultivated through repeated actions.
As the Catechism tells us:
“The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.” (CCC 1839)
When you hear the stories of his parents, friends, and teammates, you hear how he deliberately practiced courage and selflessness all his life.
As a kid at Christmas time, he gave away his gifts to the less fortunate kids at his school. When his own parents fell on hard times as a young child, he made everyone gifts and even cut down one of the shrubs outside for their Christmas tree.
On May 9, he pulled a wounded teammate to safety while under fire, with bullets pinging off the ground all around them.
That teammate, not a religious man, said that as he was being dragged through the street to safety by Michael, he saw angel wings completely surround them.
Moreover, he was actually supposed to have left the battlefield to return home but had voluntarily switched with a SEAL brother with a newborn baby at home.
The kid from California who loved fast cars, his family, and his Catholic faith, died as he lived. His courage, the virtue that makes us firm in the face of difficulty and constant in the face of fear, was revealed on that rooftop but was cultivated throughout his whole life.
On the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, whom he was named after, he received Last Rites from his unit’s chaplain, Major Father Paul Halladay, who heard many of Michael’s confessions and celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that Michael attended.
Everyone who steps onto the USS Michael Monsoor, a next-generation Naval guided-missile ship, will find the prayer card to Saint Michael the Archangel that Monsoor kept in his battle helmet when on mission. Her sailors will see “DEFEND US IN BATTLE” etched into the steel of the ship as it was etched in his warrior’s heart.