Vantage Point

Easter in a Time of War


A shadow lies over Easter this year, dimming, in a way, the light that always rises when Easter dawns. The message is still the same—He is risen!—and our hope in eternal life is just as sure, just as life-changing. But we rejoice more quietly, with our minds and hearts turning to the suffering of the people of Ukraine. Their plight is all the worse because they did not seek war; they were living in peace. War was unleashed against them without their having invited it. They are victims of aggression.

In one sense they are not victims at all; they are resisting with courage that awes and inspires. They might be outmatched militarily, but in no other way. They deserve the support of every person, everywhere, who loves freedom and the spirit of a free people.

When one part of the Mystical Body of Christ suffers, all suffer.

Following the news coming out of Ukraine, like all of us, I feel great sorrow and the desire to help. But most of the time, what I feel most strongly is helplessness. What can I do, what can any of us do, to end the suffering, to bring relief, to show that we stand with the Ukrainian people?

Daily prayer for them, of course, is our first responsibility. We can also donate to humanitarian agencies, such as Catholic Relief Services, that are doing great work for Ukraine. But I think that all of us are asking, “What else can I do?”

I am sure that I am not the only one who is tempted to feel hopeless about the situation. It is ironic, because of all the sacred seasons of the year, Easter is the one most connected to hope. Christ has conquered death, the ultimate enemy, the deepest source of despair. Heaven’s gates are open. We are called to rejoice. In Christ’s own words: “Be not afraid!” Yet we live with the knowledge that elsewhere in the world people suffer acutely, and the suffering in Ukraine, in particular, is before us every day in words and photos. How do we deal with the contradiction?

I thought about Jesus at the time of His Passion. He too was helpless, although his helplessness was willed. He took it on to save us. But it was a real helplessness, and it led Him to the very depths of suffering. As He prayed in spiritual agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter and James and John were sleeping. Jesus was grilled by the self-serving Pontius Pilate and then handed over for torture and death.

He was a king, the Son of God, but He laid down His power for our sake and died the death of a criminal.

I don’t think it is possible for the human mind to comprehend the depth of meaning in Jesus’ sacrifice, or to understand fully the extent to which He really did become like one of us: helpless against an unjust sentence, against mockery and torture and death. Perhaps the most profound and humbling part of it is that He did it freely, to redeem us. God himself could not bear the thought of eternity without us, so He rescued us. I don’t know any fact more humbling than that.

Besides praying daily for the Ukrainian people and donating to relief efforts, perhaps we can help them by remembering and uniting ourselves to the helplessness of Christ. It was real, and He paid a tremendous price for it. He also accomplished the very thing that He became man to do: He redeemed us and all creation. He established a Church to bring His love and His presence to all people, through prayer and sacrament, penance and celebration, until the end of time.

We cannot allow helplessness to slide into hopelessness. By our prayers and sacrifices and donations, we can ease suffering and keep hope alive. The tomb is empty, and because of that, our hearts can be filled with the peace that the world cannot give.