As full-scale war breaks out by Putin’s Russian invasion, in Ukraine there are sadly now Christians, who share in the Body of Christ after praying the Divine Liturgy, who are ready to kill one another. That one side fights as invaders and the other defenders is an important distinction but not the focus here.
What we do know is that women, children, the poor and working classes suffer the most from war’s devastation. There is also a very real threat of escalation and even existential threat of nuclear conflict. Yet, as terrifying as that all is, war remains a power that offers us meaning and consistently tempts us to trust that it will save us.
We must say No! to war and its attacks on human life. Pope St. Clement of Rome once wrote: “Why do the Members of Christ tear one another; why do we rise up against our own body in such madness; have we forgotten that we are all members, one of another?”
Recently, following his predecessors, Pope Francis reminded us of the “madness of war”: “I would like to appeal to those with political responsibilities to do a serious examination of conscience before God, who is the God of peace and not of war, who is the father of all and not only of some, who wants us to be brothers and sisters and not enemies.”
The strongman politics of Putin must be condemned and at the same time, as Francis encourages us in Fratelli Tutti, we must look inward at our own scapegoating, nationalistic tendencies, and acceptance of violence.
Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from
the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
We are rightly appalled by the incredible, violent turn of events, and we too, as Americans and as the Church in the United States, must take a hard look at our history, our present, our own hearts.
For the United States has its own creative storytelling about regional stability, peacekeeping, demilitarizations, quelling of slave rebellions, native uprisings, taking territories by means of war, systemic exclusion and infringement on the rights of people of color, migrants and unborn children. Currently, we’re having public arguments about whether we ought to tell the truth about this history at all. The line cuts close and deep indeed.
Once asked how she was coping with her cancer, Sr. Thea Bowman replied, “Part of my approach to my illness has been to say I want to choose life, I want to keep going, I want to live fully until I die.” Asked whether she had reconciled with her disease, she recoiled at the question: “I don’t want to reconcile with cancer, I don’t want to reconcile with injustice… racism… sexism… classism. I don’t want to reconcile with anything that is destructive.”
Let us condemn the killing and refuse to reconcile with war. Let us choose life! In the Eucharist we participate in the end of sacrifice, including the sacrifices of war. Jesus is the fulfillment of every good sacrifice and the overcoming of all of the ways that we sacrifice one another. What has come into being in Him is life.
That’s why when Christ tells us to love our enemies, he means it.
“If we are calling upon nations to disarm,” Dorothy Day once wrote, “we must be brave enough and courageous enough to set the example.”
As tempting as it might be to look to strongmen or military might, to a moral vision in which enemies have a monopoly on evil and therefore there’s no need to ask forgiveness, the way of the cross is a different path.
As Pope Benedict XVI put it beautifully in his 2007 Angelus at the start of Lent: “Christ’s proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This “more” comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can “tip the balance” of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive “world” which is the human heart.”
“Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the “Christian revolution,” a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power: the revolution of love.”
This Lent, let us pray for peace in Ukraine fervently and prepare ourselves to follow faithfully Christ our Peace.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Pray. Pray, fast, and give, for an end to the war in Ukraine, for protection for all in harm’s way (especially women, children, and the poor who usually suffer the most in times of war), and for peacemaking efforts. Where to give to help Ukraine:
Repent. That we would repent of our own attachments to aggressive nationalism, the violence in our own hearts and our refusals to condemn structural violence in our midst, and our temptation to see others, especially migrants and the poor, as threats and/or tools rather than Jesus seeking welcome and offering us a future (see in particular Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, secs. 11, 86, 141)
Peacebuilding. As Pope Saint Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Get involved in working for justice, for protecting life and human dignity and all of creation. Be prepared to stand against war and U.S. and NATO pursuit of military responses and proliferation of arms and to encourage instead solutions that address root causes. Learn about peacebuilding movements and consider how you, your family, and parish community might train for peace, learning and practicing ways of being in the world free of violence and killing. Starting with the Eucharist.]