“The Great Crisis in Ukraine and the Golden Rule”

February 25, 2022 | By The Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time,
Blessed Sacrament Parish, Belleville

Nota bene: I delivered this homily before President Putin illegally declared Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine to be independent republics; before he declared that the country of Ukraine had no right to exist; before he commenced a cyber-attack on the country; before he began to attack Ukraine from three sides initiating a full-scale war, which has been called the greatest geopolitical crisis in Europe since the Second World War; before the United States and other nations began to impose severe sanctions on Russia; and before hopes for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis were all but abandoned. All of us has plunged the financial markets in the United States and around the world into a state of uncertainty.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

I hope you have been praying fervently for Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, for Joseph Biden, the President of the United States and for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of the Ukraine and their citizens. Many political observers believe that the world is in a state of crisis not equaled since the end of the Cold War. The United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, the governments of Ukraine and of the United States have all expressed urgent concern that diplomatic efforts are failing, and the President of Russia has placed vast military resources near the borders of Ukraine that suggest that it is his intention to invade this sovereign nation, perhaps with the intention of making it a part of Russia as it was a part of the former Soviet Union. Will he attack the capitol, Kyiv? Will he attempt to take over the Moscow-approved separatist controlled areas of eastern Ukraine (Donetsk and Luhansk), which have been at war with Ukraine for 8 years, as he did with Crimea in 2014 and declare them a part of Russia? Such violations of international law seem possible. Such actions would be in opposition to the clear international justice and peace teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the teachings of the social encyclicals of the recent Popes.

These actions would be catastrophic for the people of Ukraine, for the stability of Europe and would involve the United States in massive sanctions against Russia that would cause great suffering for the Russian people and have a negative impact on the economy of the United States, already made unstable by the coronavirus pandemic and other factors. We must pray during this morning’s Eucharist for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to this dangerous crisis, which could lead to an unnecessary war.

I know that to many people it might seem naïve for me to say this, but the challenging words of Jesus Christ in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke contain the seeds of a resolution to this conflict, if only individuals and nations would take them seriously. Jesus says, “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 break into a neighbor’s home and steal his/her personal property, if you do not want others to break into your home and steal your personal property. 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 with the intent to overthrow the government, if you do not want other countries to imperialistically cross the borders of your independent country with the intent to overthrow the government.

In today’s proclamation from the gospel of Luke, Jesus is continuing His Sermon on the Plain, which is contrasted with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Last week, Jesus proclaimed four blessed and four woes. This week he announces a list of moral challenges that most of us probably find difficult to live by every day. But they are as timely as this morning’s headlines about the tense geopolitical crisis in the world. At the heart of Jesus’ list is the Golden Rule. Jesus has come down from a mountain to deliver His “sermon on a level plain.” For Luke the phrase “level plain” suggests the everyday world in which the Jewish people lived. The world of the crushing power of the invading Roman Empire, political intrigue, religious conflict, suffering, misery, hunger, death, and mourning. Jesus teaches that the coming Kingdom of Heaven should be hoped for and anticipated in the midst of the problems of everyday life. Luke is asking us and the governments of the world, “How are we living by the attitudes of God’s Kingdom in our ordinary lives on the level plain of life.”

Luke tells us Jesus has attracted a large crowd. He teaches with great authority as if He is looking each person in the eye and saying: “Now listen to Me! I have something important to say that you need to understand!”

He is saying, you need to know that there is a radical difference between the kind of life you must live as My followers and the secular life most people around you are living. The two ways of living are almost polar opposites. If you want to be a part of My Father’s Kingdom you need to know and understand what God desires from each one of you. You must give up many of the worldly values around you and embrace God-centered values. As a member of a God-centered family, you must trust Me and live differently from many people around you, including some of your relatives and friends. I am calling you to try to live from this day forward looking at the world as My Father and I do. This will not be easy. But I will help you by My word and My example. If you follow Me, you will realize that God has different priorities than the world has. It may take your entire lifetime to live as My Father wishes, but today you must begin to try.

Then Jesus says: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, (This should not be interpreted to mean that if a person or country attacks you, your family or your country that you do not have the right to defend yourself, your family or your country from unjust aggression.) and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing in return; then your reward will be great, for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Judge not lest you be judged.”

If we examine our consciences honestly, we might find that we are not living as people
anticipating the Kingdom of Heaven. We are living in the same way that those who do not
profess to be Christ-centered are living. What Jesus is asking of us this morning, seems to be too much altogether, completely unrealistic in today’s world! If it is too much for us, it is almost certainly too much for the leaders of Russia, the United States, the Ukraine, and western Europe on the brink of calamitous conflict.

Then, Jesus announces the most famous of the moral imperatives in His Sermon on the
Plain. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.”

This moral imperative has long been called The Golden Rule, the principle of treating
others as one wants to be treated. You might be surprised to know that this moral imperative did not originate with Jesus. Nor is it unique to Christianity. It is a maxim that is found in most
religions and most cultures. The idea can be found in ancient Egypt 700 years BC and in the
writings of Confucius 550 years BC. It is featured prominently in the world’s major religions
including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. The
Golden Rule can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition, even those which do not affirm belief in the existence of God.

If human beings and whole nations are striving to live according to the Golden Rule, they
must try to empathize with other people and other nations including people and nations which are very different from one another. Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion,
understanding, respect, compromise, diplomacy, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts,
between husbands and wives, parents and children, coworkers on the job, factions in your parish, opposing political parties, and governments involved in international disputes. Kindness, compassion, understanding, respect, and compromise are qualities 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! It is not difficult for most of us to imagine what would cause us suffering. Empathy requires us to avoid causing similar suffering to others. For this reason, many people think “do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself” is a guide for life that all people everywhere should be willing to follow. If you think about it, nations should be willing to follow this imperative as well.

“Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you” or “do unto others as
you would have others do unto you” may be the greatest, the simplest, and the most important moral guide than the human race has ever devised. It is easy to understand. The basic idea is very clear. But it is not always easy to follow.

Before we do anything which might harm another person, or another country, we should
imagine ourselves, or our country in their position and ask the simple question. How would we feel if someone, or some country did to us what we are thinking of doing to another person, or country? If we would not want this deed to be done to us or our homeland, it should be fairly obvious that no one else and no other country would want it to be done to them. Because of universal human empathy, we realize that this unwanted act should not be done. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is simple, and easy to understand. But in many cases, especially in complex interpersonal and political circumstances, the cooperative is NOT easy for individuals or nations to live by in a consistent manner.

This is why the world may be on the brink of a complex war between Russia and the
Ukraine that will ensnare Europe and the United States in ways that we cannot foresee.

In a critical hour such as this, 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 their hands. We should pray with all seriousness for Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, for Joseph Biden, the President of the United States and for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine that the Holy Spirit will move them and all of us to head the words of Isaiah 2:4 and beat swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks. Nation should not lift up swords against nation. Nor should they train for war again!

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you!”

Praise be Jesus Christ! Both now and forever! AMEN!

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