A Sombre Anniversary

As we commemorate this day, February 24th, the official beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, we should all be praying for some sort a peaceful resolution, not least before there is further escalation that spirals out of control, if it hasn’t already. The Ukrainian Catholic bishops here in Canada have issued a letter, and the reader may take their appeal for prayer, intercession and sacrifice to end this conflict to heart.

As I wrote recently, these days are eerily similar to those preceding the Great War at the turn of the last century, with world leaders on what seemed an insane, but inevitable, collision course. The Pope at the time, the saintly Pius X, knew that he could do little, even though he prayed for much. Once the conflagration commenced, the peace plan of his successor, Benedict XV, was roundly ignored, as unhinged patriotism and passion blinded men to any sense of proportion. Yet, when the exhausted and crushed nations had had enough of the slaughter, President Wilson used much of Benedict XV’s sage advice in the peace talks after the war, even though the Pope was excluded.

Whatever the justification of either side in a conflict, and the evils against which they are defending, the Holy Father warned against demonizing the other, especially the people of the nation, who often have little to do with the decisions of their leaders. He exhorted aggrieved states to find a peaceful resolution, even if imperfect. As a future Pope Benedict teaches in Deus Caritas Est, injustice, perceived and otherwise, will last unto the end of time, and only in heaven will justice be fully served. The Pope’s words fell on deaf ears, as the nations of Europe all went for each other’s throats, and the bloodletting began.

To what avail? Christ Himself warned us to avoid war, especially if its costs far outweighed whatever wrongs needed righting. To paraphrase an old saw, war is last-ditch diplomacy. But it is also a punishment from God. Tragically, it is the innocent who suffer most, as we have witnessed and are witnessing, and we can only trust that the same God will take care of His own, welcoming them into His kingdom.

I’m not sure what a peaceful solution would look like in the current conflict, and any ‘victory’ would seem pyrrhic for both sides, even for the world, especially as this conflict continues and metastasizes. To put it mildly, a third world war would be a lot worse than the first one. Perhaps, as a priest friend mentioned to me just the other day, the Almighty has decreed in His permissive will that there is no other way for us to be roused from our amoral slumber, as we offer up our children, unborn and born, to the various Molochs of the age. Whatever one thinks of Putin – and this is not to justify him nor his actions – his speech the other day expressed some hard truths one would not hear from few, if any, other world leaders. Regardless of his motives, the words themselves stand as a warning.

For, in the end, all external conflicts in this world are a symptom of the deeper one within our hearts, as the choice for good or evil confronts each one of us, which unfolds in an eschatological battle moving towards the culmination of all history. A cleansing fire may be on its way, which can only be averted by a deep metanoia.

Sadly, as so often, we may have to learn the hard way. Si vis pacem, para bellum. But in a more Catholic sense, si vis pacem, orate valde.

Christe, miserere nobis!

Regina pacis, Sancte Joseph, et Sancte Michael, orate pro nobis!