“ I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ Thoughts of a Washed up Priest and Chaplain at the End of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A few nights ago I watched the final episode of the television series M*A*S*H “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” As I mentioned in my last blog both the series and the film have been important and long lasting parts of my life. It is interesting because when I was first commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on 19 June 1983 in the Medical Service Corps, and September 1992 became a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, subsequently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve as a Chaplain. I also served as a Armor Officer in Texas during seminary. On 9 February 1999 I turned in my Gold Oak Leaf as a Major in the Army for the two Silver Bars of a Navy Chaplain Corps Lieutenant.

Now, 21 years after that move I am a washed up Chaplain and Navy Commander mostly abandoned by fellow Chaplains for openly and honesty dealing with the ravages of PTSD, abandonment which created moral injury that I have never recovered from, no matter how hard I prayed the Daily Office, or studied scripture and theology. Without going into such detail that it would harm me even more in much current fragile emotional state, I can only say that I was abandoned, ghosted, and off revamped by the senior Chaplains who sent me to war, of course I was a very willing volunteer, and then ensured that every subsequent assignment would be harmful to my career, while certain senior chaplains treated me in the most malicious and evil manner knowing I needed a continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care, ripped me away from it sending me on a three year geographic bachelor tour, away from home and those supports.

I also continue to suffer physical and neurological disorders related to combat. One is a combination of serene Tinnitus, and abnormal degraded speech comprehension without corresponding hearing loss. The neurologist thought it was due damage to my auditory nerves and auditory processing center related to PTSD. My speech comprehension was rated in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people process speech better than me. In order to understand speech in individual conversations or in large groups I have to be completely focused and not have any cross talk or background noise. This makes it difficult to function. Basically, I am functionally deaf unless I am completely focused on whoever is talking and they are speaking clearly enough for me to understand. Judy is really deaf, and she understands speech better than me much of the time.

During Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen the 4077th’s Chaplain, Father Francis Mulcahy is exposed to a mortar blast and suffers Tinnitus and hearing loss, which continue to get worse despite his prayers.

In one of his prayers to God, one which resonates much with me, he cries out:

“Dear Lord, I know there must be a reason for this, but what is it? I answered the call to do your work. I’ve devoted my life to it, and now, how am I supposed to do it? What good am I now? What good is a deaf priest? I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ 

My situation doesn’t simply involve my inability to understand speech but the residual effects of PTSD: hyper vigilance, anxiety, severe depression, sleep disorders, nightmare and night terror disorders that have resulted in injuries including a broken nose when battling the phantom like images of assailants in my dreams.And most recently under the stress I feel, horrible angry outbursts that are so unlike me. They make me feel horrible, but a decade of death threats, internet stalking, being called an “enemy of America”, and for supporting the rights of Blacks a “nigger lover” and “wigger,” and condemnation by Christians for caring about the rights, safety, and decent treatment of LGBTQ as enabling sin against God, but I never saw Jesus turn anyone away. The greatest hurt I experience is when Christian friends attack, condemn, and abandon me, especially over the past five years as so many became members of the Trump Dictatorship Cult. It took a while but I don’t take it anymore and after slicing and dicing their arguments leave things in their hands as where to they want to go with our relationship. Some cut me off and others make sure I know how rotten I am before they cut things off. Back in the early days after returning from Iraq while melting down and being thrown out of my former Church I culled a lot of them preemptively from my social contacts. A few have since renewed and reconciled but not all.

No amount of praying ever changed anything. I still believe in God, but I struggle every day. Sometimes I don’t feel that I am of any use, but too many people tell me that I do. Even so the fourth verse of the M*A*S*H them song, Suicide is Painless rings true for me now. I don’t have the answers. That verse says: A brave man once requested me to answer questions questions that are key, “Is it to be or not to be” and I replied “oh, why ask me?” 

Something that Colonel Potter said to Father Mulcahy and Mulcahy’s reply seems a pretty good place to end this before I sign off from this post:

Col. Potter: Well, Francis, you’ve been a godsend.
Father Mulcahy: Look on the bright side: When they tell us to serve our time in Purgatory, we can say, “No thanks, I’ve done mine.”

So here I am, an old, broken, washed-up Chaplain and priest who is a better historian than many looking to the next phase of my life, with Judy and the puppies, but even so, without a Parish, without an institutional Chaplain position, or any formal place of ministry, I will still be a Priest, and serve whoever comes into my life, even when I struggle and doubt.

Since I am going to have to get a bit of work done  house and do my damnedest to finish the illustration section of my book so I can send it to my agent and publisher tomorrow, which means whenever I wake up, I wish you all peace and safety.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

21 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, film, healthcare, History, iraq, mental health, Military, movies, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, remembering friends, Sleep and Insomnia, suicide, televsion, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Navy

21 responses to ““ I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ Thoughts of a Washed up Priest and Chaplain at the End of a Military Career

  1. Padre … you and I have never met, nor likely will we. But, through your blog, your writing and your comments, I have developed a respect for you, and a liking for the person that you are. I am a non-believer, so I cannot speak with any validity to religious issues, but I know that you are a good man, and that in no way, shape or form are you ‘washed up’. You are, I think, at a crossroads, a bit confused as to what comes next, but … not washed up. I love your take on everything from history to music to current events, and I sincerely hope you will continue to share your views with us. I know I am not alone, for several of my readers have also discovered and fallen in love with you and your work. Hang in, my friend … brighter days are ahead, I hope, for all of us. Know that my heart is with you and that … I care. Hugs to you, your wonderful wife, and the furry family members!

  2. Carmen

    Jill already said, very eloquently, what I wanted to say. Also Padre, I don’t know if you ever read Mother Teresa’s biography but in it she tells readers that she implored (her) god on many occasions but never once heard its voice. You have to wonder about all those people (including many pastors) who claim they are directed by the voice of their god.
    It seems to me that being a decent and kind human being is the best anyone can do, so in my books you can’t get any better.

  3. You’re not washed-up. You’re just exhausted. You’ve been fighting the good fight for a long time & it. is. exhausting.

    Hang in there. You’re going to be OK. & I know you know this. My prayers are with you. Hugs

  4. Dave M

    Mongo only pawn in the game of life.

  5. Dave M

    Genesis Lyrics
    “Land Of Confusion”

  6. Damaged?. Yes? Old? Well, so am I. Broken? Not for a sec. Just at another point on the journey facing change.
    My son’s retiring from the Navy next month after 24 years. Too hurt to do another sea duty, although his last two were on ships too messed up to leave port.
    I worked in an industry (market research) where project management change from an intellectual challenge to programming and that plus personal life events forced me to find a different path forward. I do insurance now, and am trying to find my voice as a writer. The progress has been stumbling, but there. Best path? Don’t know. Last path? Don’t know that either.
    It sounds like you’re at an inflection point as well.
    Even tinnitus is a shared problem, and it’s a side effect of Covid as well. Nuisance. Just hope there’s not some insect crawling around in my skull causing it!
    I think the attraction of the game of chess is that it’s very much like life. You can’t do anything you want because there are rules and other pieces in the way, but you still have choices. Your move.

    • padresteve

      Thank you Vic and I am sorry not to get back to you sooner. I have been so worn out and overwhelmed that I was having a hard time replying to anyone or doing much of anything. I really appreciate what you wrote. Such words take time and come from the heart. I wish you all the best this Christmas.

  7. Carmen

    Great advice, Vic. 🙂

  8. I am so sorry for your pain and disappointment. I empathize with your wanting an answer from God. I was raised Southern Baptist and taught to pray (plead) for answers, healing, help and forgiveness. It wasn’t until I read Neal Donald Walsh’s books, the Conversations With God series, that I understood that my expectation far exceeded reality. I am a believer in a Supreme force of guidance although not in the traditional sense. I believe God is within everything and with that in mind, we already know the answers to our prayers. When I began thanking Spirit for the answers and the miracles I envisioned for myself, things began to change. When I feel stuck in a situation I dig deeply for what I am missing so that release will come. Again, it breaks my heart to hear you feeling disillusioned but I also know that sometimes when we go to the depths of despair we needed to burn the house down in order to rebuild. Believe in yourself because that is where Spirit lives and it wouldn’t inhabit an unworthy place. 🤗❤️

  9. Rhonda

    I hate to see you in such a dark place. Ironically, it’s the people who actually care about doing good who suffer the most. You’ve helped more people than you know, and we’re here to let you know your work has not been in vain.

    • padresteve

      Thank you so much, doing a bit better today. Humor is starting to come back. I don’t know where it went but I’m charging it AWOL for the past week. That will teach it.

    • padresteve

      Thank you Rhonda. I appreciate your thoughts. Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, just been too overwhelmed to respond or do much of anything. Thank you again.

  10. William Ramsey

    Well Padre Steve, you may be “old,” although I find that term to be quite relative, and you’ve served and given as much as a human can be asked to serve and give, but “washed up?,” not hardly. I urge you to focus on all the good your life has sowed, all the service people who you’ve counseled and helped find their way during your long career. The Cult45ers are irrelevant now, though their rise and continued presence is troubling and saddening. The military leadership who have failed you have revealed their true hearts and will be held to account by God when they depart this world. You’re about to embark on a new and enriching phase of life, retirement, and I pray it provides you with the solace and fulfillment that you so richly deserve! God bless you.

  11. William Ramsey

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t add, Ich auch gut Deutsch bier mag, aber Ich bin ein Clubberer (Nurnberg F.C.)!

  12. So sorry that you’re in a dark place. I hope and pray you’ll get the healing you need. It takes a lot of courage to do what you’ve done with your life and your blog and it has taken a lot out of you. No wonder you feel “washed-up” but you’re one of the good guys and you’re valued by many people. It’s a shame that there are people who are so warped or narrow-minded that they would attack you for your very humane views. They’re probably literally ignorant, like Trump himself. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    • padresteve

      Thank you Marty. I am sorry for not replying sooner. Things have just been a bit overwhelming and I am just starting to get back to replying to folks who take their time to encourage me. Thank you again.

  13. David W. HARRIS

    Padre Steve, I have often noted your PTSD illness but as this affects people differently it was not until reading this post that I began to understand your struggle. I wish I had a magic wand ! It took me a long time to realise that God’s agenda is so different to mans, being of this World we tend to confuse our spiritual and physical well being, it seems to me that as an entity of the Spirit ,G
    od’s interest is our spiritual condition. Often the answers that God sends us are not the answers we hoped for…because we are human and have physical aspirations and worries. Hopefully in time we recognise the answer we need. I hope you will. Age is a privilege, washed up is an illusion for you…..just think of all the people who support you with their kindness and affection….your are not washed up you are just approaching a new and exciting type of life. I submit my very best wishes for a happy new life. Regards

    • padresteve

      Thank you David. I have been so overwhelmed the past couple of weeks that I haven’t had a chance to respond to anyone. Answering a lot of mail tonight.

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