A Wartime Meditation – Catholic World Report
In the Roman and Byzantine liturgical calendars, Lent 2022 coincided with a brutal war in Ukraine. This war was started by the Russian Vladimir Putin for an ignoble imperial cause. It was carried out by the Russian army in a way reminiscent of the barbarism of the Romans who crucified 6,000 slaves along the Appian Way after Spartacus’ revolt. It’s an old story. Tyrants cannot tolerate the truth about their tyranny; they terrorize to break the spirit of those who seek freedom.
During the third week of the war, Latin Rite Catholics read a passage from St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 140 that would surely ring true in the hearts of our Eastern Christian brethren in Ukraine, Greek Catholic and Orthodox:
“Lord, I cried out to you, hear me.” It’s a prayer we can all say. It is not my prayer, but that of all of Christ. On the contrary, it is said in the name of his body. When Christ was on earth, he prayed in his human nature and prayed to the Father in the name of his body; and when he prayed, drops of blood fell from all over his body. This is how it is written in the Gospel: “Jesus prayed earnestly and sweated blood.” What is this blood that flows from his whole body if not the martyrdom of the whole Church?
Blood has been flowing from the body of Christ, the Church in Ukraine, for eight weeks now. She poured out the bodies of men, women and children. Ukrainian patriots fell to defend their homeland; Russian soldiers fell for reasons they couldn’t understand, because their superiors lied to them about their mission. The bloody wounds that were inflicted on the Body of Christ in this war recall the scourging of the Lord; the senseless cruelties inflicted on civilians recall his crowning with thorns by the sadists. With Christ, the Ukrainian people, who ask only to be themselves, have walked the bloody path of Calvary, where those who inflict their sufferings laugh at their claims to be who they are.
The wounds in Ukraine, especially in the city of Mariupol’, recall a reflection by another Doctor of the Church, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. The city’s name pays homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as seen in the Hodegetria icon. The wanton destruction of a town with a Marian name by Russian forces – including the kidnapping of inhabitants and their deportation to Russia – was a poignant reminder of why Saint Bernard taught the Church that Our -Lady is a martyr:
The martyrdom of the Virgin is exposed both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the real story of the passion of our Lord. The holy old man said of the child Jesus: “He was established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary, “And your own heart will be pierced with a sword.”
Truly, O blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart. For only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son. Indeed, after your Jesus — who belongs to everyone, but who is especially yours — gave life, the cruel spear, which was not held on his lifeless body, tore his side. It is clear that it did not touch his soul and could not hurt him, but it pierced your heart… Thus the violence of pain passed through your heart, and we rightly call you more than a martyr, for the effect of compassion in you has exceeded the endurance of physical suffering.
Healing the physical, spiritual and emotional wounds of this war will take a long time. These wounds include the falsifications of East Slavic Christian history that underpin the Russian attempt to destroy a sovereign nation: a nation that posed no threat to Moscow’s security, but which, by its very existence, has challenged the false story that Russian leaders – political and, alas, religious – have been telling their people this for too long. Despite a long healing process, Ukraine experienced more than the Passion during this Lent.
From the beginning Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other true men of God have proclaimed the saving truth that Easter follows Calvary. Thus, we can carry our crosses, even bloody ones, in the certainty that the victory of Christ is ours if we remain faithful to his cause. As Archbishop-Major Shevchuk, named on a Russian murder list, said with simple eloquence, in the “baptismal waters of the Dnipro River”, these faithful became “the body of the risen Christ, on which death has no power”.
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