Fresh Courage for Moral Injury: Sacramental Healing with Returning Veterans

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Theology (ThD)


Fresh Courage for Moral Injury: Sacramental Healing with Returning Veterans advocates for the faithful in the Catholic Church to become better acquainted with the concept of moral injury to welcome home those struggling with betrayal, transgressions, and alienation resulting from war. Reviewing the historical emphasis of the healing sacraments along with the revised rites of penance and anointing of the sick, I consider three important questions that foster strengthening and fresh courage: (1) How can Catholic communities accompany morally injured returning veterans through renewed relationships and the healing sacraments? (2) What gifts do returning veterans share with the faith community? (3) What might suitable communal and ritual experiences with returning veterans look like? Moral injury is a relatively new term (2009) with ancient meaning. While the therapeutic fields have been making the largest advances in developing the concept, recognition of the spiritual aspects of moral injury have garnered a great deal of attention over the past several years. The contributions of the Catholic Church, however, have been limited at best. This dissertation strives to encourage reflection on the Catholic characteristics of ritual and returning home. Pope Francis has frequently called the church to be a ‘field hospital’ evoking the importance of mercy and accompaniment. The Holy Father has also implored military chaplains to extend continuing pastoral care to those affected by the ‘indelible marks of war.’ Bridging these two expressions assists in constructing a bridge of communalization through listening, small groups, and the healing sacraments that is needed among veterans and civilians today. Chapter 1 reviews the definitions of moral injury and proposes the need for reconnecting with the sacraments. Chapter 2 explores the concept of ritual in the church and military to include historical perspectives of how the early church welcomed warriors home. Chapter 3 vii notes the shared burden of war among returning veterans and civilians along with the importance of communal reconciliation. Chapter 4 compares the human experiences of internal and external experiences of illness and proposes anointing the morally injured. Chapter 5 provides pastoral approaches to celebrate with returning veterans, to include templates for sacramental healing.

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