Battle Lines by Monsignor Ferrarese

If you’re like me, you’re probably sitting in front of the TV and watching the news about the war in Ukraine. You’re also probably thinking that this is an exhausting, depressing experience. So much destruction. So much death. For what? Are we never going to learn lessons from history? War is futile. War is stupid. War is a waste of people.

Yet the bombs keep dropping and millions flee their homes. War has always been senseless, but I think we thought we had learned our lesson. We haven’t.

Russia and Ukraine both have Christian histories and Christian roots. They both venerate our Blessed Lady as the Mother of God and our own mother. What sadness must be hers as she watches the carnage of her beloved children!

The Pope has called on the Global Catholic Church to pray and to consecrate both Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Way before the rest of the world, Our Lady knew how important to the world is the salvation of Russia. At her appearances in Fatima, she asked special prayers and attention be given to the future of Russia. At that moment, Russia was descending into the pit of Bolshevism in all its atheistic horror. I remember growing up in the 50’s and how we would end each Mass (in Latin of course) with prayers for the conversion of Russia. The Soviet Union collapsed without a shot being fired. Until now.

A couple of years ago I went to Russia on vacation. I have always loved Russian Literature: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekov. I found that after 80 years of enforced atheism, Russia was undergoing a religious revival. I went to the monastery of St. Sergius (about 3 hours from Moscow). It was the feast of St. Peter and Paul (in the Orthodox calendar). St. Sergius was bursting at the seams: 300 monks, most of them young! The Vespers ceremony, replete with many processions, lasted over 2 hours.

Ukraine has also seen an amazing religious revival. Then why the destruction?

This is a perennial problem in regard to faith. While one can devotionally pray before an icon of the God-Bearer or Mother of God, when one leaves the Church, the daily life of human concerns, politics and world events seem completely divorced from that previous pious attitude. The feeling of love can be abandoned in accepting hate into the human psyche. This is not a new problem. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman spoke about the difference between Notional Assent (totally in the mind) and Real Assent (affects real life). Praying before an icon of Our Blessed Lady can elicit a feeling in the heart that does not translate into action when one leaves after Mass.

In Notional Assent, one can be on one’s knees one moment and pulling a trigger in the next moment.

This apparent contradiction afflicts all believers. In fact, one way that a Christian can know that their belief is real and not ‘in the head’ is by an evaluation of one’s actions. There is a principle in theology that states: “Agere sequitur esse” which loosely translate: “Action follows Being”. So that if one is truly a believing Christian one manifests that being in how the person actually lives their lives: on their actions. If their actions do not match their beliefs than their faith is notional or imaginary. Concretely: if a person says that he believes that a Christian should aid the poor, then a look at their checkbooks would show whether this belief is real or notional. It is as simple as that.

When we say that a nation has a Christian heritage (as seems to be the case with both Russia and Ukraine) we are merely stating an apparent historical fact and not evaluating their true Christianity.

Should Christian nations (by heritage and history) react differently on the world stage? On the one hand one would hope the answer was Yes. One’s beliefs should make a difference. But, on the other hand, history and the sheer numbers of people make for much more complexity. What one says about an individual person may not hold for a nation.

In the face of all of this, consecrating both nations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary seems to be the fairest solution. Leaving it up to the judgement of God and the advocacy of Our Lady may, in the end, bear the most fruit.

Let’s pray for all those involved in this tragic conflict.

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