March 28, 2022 | By Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.
March 28, 2022 | By Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.
“The Transfiguration of Christ and the War Against Ukraine”
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
We are living through a Lent like no other! As Pope St. John Paul II said, “During Lent,
we Christians go up to Jerusalem, praying for the candidates for the Easter sacraments, fasting,
almsgiving, confessing sorrow for our sins, preparing to participate anew in the suffering, death
and resurrection of Jesus Christ, contemplating the mysteries by which we are reborn.” Then he
said with prescience, “Whenever we see our fellow men and women of whatever religion, race or
nationally enduring innocent suffering, we see Jesus Himself hanging on the cross on Calvery.”
The Holy Father’s words speak directly to the horrific events of the last three weeks
which remind us that when we gather to pray at the Sunday Eucharist, we should always have the
Word of God in one hand and the morning paper in the other.
Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, and Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and the head
of the Russian Orthodox Church have an unusually close relationship. Mr. Putin wears a cross
around his neck and is often seen making the sign of the cross before he goes swimming. Still his
personal religious views are largely unknown. He has plunged the world into the greatest
geopolitical crisis since World War II, by illegally and immorally declaring war on Ukraine,
causing death, destruction, and unspeakable suffering of innocent people.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of the Ukraine, falsely called a Nazi by President
Putin, is actually Jewish. He swore his presidential oath on a Bible and he openly speaks proudly
of his Jewish Heritage. Though not personally devout, he leads a nation most of whose citizens
are members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that separated from the Russian Orthodox
Church in 2019. They have their own Primate, Patriarch Filaret of Kyiv. Mr. Zelensky has risen
to the occasion by leading his nation in a forceful defense against the President Putin’s wrongful
military might with a wisdom, courage, and tenacity that have led some observers to speak of
him as Ukraine’s Winston Churchill!
Joseph Biden, the President of the United States, is a Catholic, who talks openly about
how his faith has sustained him in the midst of terrible personal suffering, is regularly seen
going to Sunday Mass. He is criticized by some Catholics because of his support for Roe v.
Wade. He has successfully united the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union,
and other allies in providing massive military support to Ukraine, imposing crippling sanctions
on Russia, which are having an impact on the economy of the United States, causing inflation,
increasing the cost for gas, hard on all, especially the poor. He vows to defend every inch of
NATO territory, insisting that he will not, under any circumstances, lead the United States into
World War III with Russia.
In this evening’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus of Nazareth takes Peter, James,
and John to a mountain top to pray. He is transfigured before them and is seen in conversation
with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets. Somehow Jesus’ favorite
apostles are drowsy, sleeping through most of the vision as they will do during Jesus’ prayers in
Gethsemani, the night before his crucifixion. When they finally wake up, they hear a voice from
a cloud saying, “This is my son. Listen to him!” Of course, the voice is not speaking only to
them. The voice is speaking to every Christian, to each of us on our Lenten Journey, to every
living soul in the world!
If only Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Joseph Biden could make their way to
the mount of the transfiguration to pray. If only they could see Jesus with his face transfigured in
grief and sorrow to see the Russian leader brutally attacking his innocent neighbor, Ukraine,
slaughtering children, women, and men. They would see Christ’s face changed by the memory of
the horrors of World War II and the genocide of Adolf Hitler. The unspeakable tragedy of the
devastation of bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They might hear Him ask “Has the human
family learned nothing? Have world leaders forgotten the impassioned plea of Pope St. Paul VI
at the United Nations, “plus la guerre, jamais plus la guerre” NO more war! Never again war!
If only President Putin could overcome his drowsy sleepiness causing him to have czarist
dream of restoring the vast empire of the old Soviet Union. If only Mr. Putin could open his eyes
to the Christian teachings on Justice and Peace in the Russian Orthodox tradition and become
wide awake to the dangers of bringing the world to the precipice of chemical, biological and
nuclear war. If only these world leaders could see Jesus’ dazzling white garments and overhear
his conversation with Moses and Elijah, as they discussed the human empathy, respect,
compassion, diplomacy and patience that lead disagreeing nations on the road to peace. If only
these men and the citizens of their countries could be moved by the Holy Spirit to heed the words
of Isaiah and beat their swords into ploughshares, and turn their spears into pruning hooks, never
training for war again!!
Then they could say, “Master, it is good that we are here.” They would hear the voice
from the cloud. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
What is Jesus saying to these presidents and to each of us to which we need to listen
attentively this Lent? Jesus is telling every member of the human family, “You should love God
with your whole being. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Who is your
neighbor? Every other human being on earth, period! We must listen to Jesus saying, “Do unto to
others as you would have others do unto you.” Do you think in is naïve to believe these
challenging words of Jesus Christ contain the wisdom needed to move the 190,000 Russian
soldiers to put down their weapons, withdraw from Ukraine, go home to their families, and allow
the 2 ½ million Ukrainian refugees to return home, bury their dead, and rebuild their families and
their cities. It is only naive because individuals and nations are unwilling to take the words of
Jesus seriously. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you!” Do not lie about other
people, if you do not want others to lie about you. Do not threaten to harm other people, if you
do not want others to threaten to harm you. Do not endanger the lives, safety and well-being of
your neighbor’s children, if you do not want others to endanger the lives, safety and well-being
of your children. Do not treat people unjustly because of their religion, nationality, race, gender,
sexual identity, or social status, unless you want others to treat you unjustly because of your
religion, nationality, race, gender, sexual identity, or social status. Do not imperialistically
presume to cross the borders of an independent country, declare that it has no right to exist,
bomb maternity wards, schools, family homes, residences for the disabled, and evacuation routes
and kill scores of innocent civilians with the intent to overthrow their government, if you do not
want other countries to imperialistically cross the borders of your independent country and do the
same to you!
Do unto others as you would have others do unto you! Is it possible that one man can
abandon empathy and hold the entire world at gunpoint while nations standby feeling almost
helpless? Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding, respect, compromise,
diplomacy, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts that we all would like others to show us no
matter who we are, what we think, where we live, or what our religious, political, or social
beliefs may be. The same is true for nations! Surely we are no longer cave dwellers resolving
differences by throwing stones at each other.
In this present nightmare, we Catholics must realize that we are not only citizens of our
country but also citizens of the world. We have a moral responsibility to be well-informed about
what is going on around us and to make critical, moral decisions about the actions of
governments that can adversely affect us all. We should not be content to pray vaguely for world
peace. We should pray specifically for the leaders who have the instruments of war and peace in
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, this is a Lent like no other. We need to listen to Jesus
Christ. He is asking us to awake from our drowsiness. Give up indifference to the drama
unfolding half a world away. Make time to read and gain a serious knowledge of this world
crisis. Try to find something you can do, no matter how small, that can end human suffering in
our neighborhoods or far way. Pay close attention to the Word of God we hear at Mass, believe
what you hear, teach what you believe, practice what you teach!
And pray each day. Consider praying the family Rosary for peace once a week. You say
you have no time? Listen to Jesus speaking in our hearts: Make the time to pray!
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and
blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and
at the hour of our death. Amen.
Our Lady Help of Christians! Pray for us!
Our Lady Queen of Peace! Pray for us!
Praise be Jesus Christ! Both now and forever! AMEN!