WASHINGTON, D.C. – As a retired U.S. Army chaplain, Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer has much to tell about prayer in battle. Now, Bishop Spencer is sharing some of his experiences in a published reflection. His ten-page chapter, “Military Postures in Prayer: Moments of Spiritual Intimacy,” appears in a hefty new hardback. The 617-page volume, edited by Robert J. Wicks, is called Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media, 2016).
In Chapter 34, Bishop Spencer reveals his prayer life in all kinds of settings, from his devout Catholic family upbringing in predominantly Protestant Sylacauga, Ala., through his ordination as an auxiliary to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, whom he now serves as his Episcopal Vicar for Europe and Asia. The chapter’s focus, however, is on Bishop Spencer’s experience of God’s presence under trying circumstances as a military chaplain.
The chapter opens with his jumping out of a plane with army paratroopers and relishing “the silence and the beauty of God’s presence” in mid-air free fall. He goes on to describe thirteen “postures of prayer” that he has learned to practice while living his life as a “soul-dier” priest. They include: the “posture of kneeling,” a means of bringing “body and soul together” in a spiritual exercise of humility, which he learned as a child from his mother, who happened to be a U.S. Marine sergeant; the “posture of walking in a daze,” experienced when he and a Protestant minister were the first chaplain team to enter the Pentagon on 9/11 to bless the deceased; the “posture of the sword,” learned on deployment to Iraq when he and his chaplain assistant had to use a decorative sabre from one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces to chop down palms for Palm Sunday Mass; and the “posture of forgiveness,” realized on numerous occasions when he and U.S. troops under his pastoral care in Iraq came under attack, teaching him the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation before battle and the need to forgive even the enemy.
Each chapter in Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: a Handbook of Practical Approaches presents its own unique perspective on prayer. Some chapters explore prayer through church teaching, such as “Traditional Catholic Prayer” and “Marian Prayer.” One of the nine sections is devoted to chapters that focus specifically on “Praying with the Gospels.” Another section contains chapters focusing exclusively on “Praying with Different Catholic Spiritual Traditions,” including Franciscan, Carmelite, Dominican, Benedictine, Salesian, Augustinian, Ignatian, and Mercy. The handbook also offers practical guides to prayer for daily living and life’s challenges under titles such as “Prayer in Chaos, Commotion, and Clutter,” “Prayer and Marriage,” and “Praying through Difficult Transitions” in addition to Bishop Spencer’s “Military Postures in Prayer: Moments of Spiritual Intimacy.”
Bishop F. Richard Spencer was born in Sylacauga, Ala. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Law Enforcement, a Master of Education Degree in Counseling, a Master of Divinity Degree, a Baccalaureate Degree in Sacred Theology (STB) and an honorary doctoral degree. Bishop Spencer was commissioned an Army officer in 1973 and began serving active duty in 1974. Following his years as a military police pfficer, he was released from active duty in 1978 to pursue formation at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Ordained to the Priesthood for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on May 14, 1988, he began serving with the U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard Units in Maryland. Chaplain Spencer returned to active duty in January 1999, and served in Korea, Bosnia, Egypt, and Germany. He has deployed into Iraq five times and also served in Afghanistan. Ordained an auxiliary bishop for the AMS on Sept. 8, 2010, Bishop Spencer retired from the U.S. Armed Forces at the rank of colonel in February 2014.