Do not give into bloodlust, revenge, and fury. We are called to something higher through Christ crucified and risen from the dead. The war in the Ukraine is unleashing the best and worst in human beings. This is what war does to us. It requires us to move beyond ourselves, but it also leads us down dark and evil paths if we are not careful. We serve a God of mercy, forgiveness, and self-emptying love. Ultimate justice belongs to Him. We work for justice, but it is an imperfect justice in this fallen world.
War takes us to places where we start to accept injustices in order to wrong injustice, often though the use of torture, indiscriminate bombing campaigns, nuclear weapons, and the wrongful imprisonment of the innocent. It is these injustices and the dehumanization of other human beings made in the image and likeness of God that are most dangerous to us in this moment in history.
War is always complicated. This is compounded by the widespread propaganda utilized on all sides. We are all being propagandized at this moment. Russian media, Ukrainian media, and Western media are all using propaganda for a particular agenda. As I have watched this propaganda being dished out daily to the masses, I cried out to Our Lord in prayer for the truth.
The truth is in short supply in war because all parties cover up their misdeeds and have competing agendas. There are misdeeds to go around, even though the Russian government primarily is to blame for the current war in Ukraine. There are also people on all sides who want to see World War III start. War is profitable for some, but it grinds under the young.
The answer I was given in prayer was simply Christ reminding me that He is the Truth. He is who we are to rely on when the storms of war, pandemic, or famine arise. He is our anchor and if we separate ourselves from Him, then we will be swept away in the stormy seas of this conflict. We will be dashed against the rocks of competing opinions and agendas. We will lose sight of Him. When this happens we are in danger. When this happens world wars erupt.
The great danger right now is for Catholics to forget that our Faith supersedes our political ideology. We cannot ignore the Church’s teaching on just war theory, the evils of torture, the dangers of what a nuclear World War III would cost, or the fact that we must be peacemakers. Our anger cannot blind us to our Christian obligations. True justice is a rarity in our fallen state. We work towards justice, but pure justice will not be found until the next life. Often we have to be willing to compromise. As Our Lord did after His resurrection, we must choose mercy over our desire for vengeance.
To dehumanize is to be dehumanized.
What is happening right now reminds me of right after 9/11. We were all angry. We wanted justice, but in reality, we wanted vengeance more. Vengeance is not of God. I served as a 9/11 relief worker. I wanted to see the 9/11 hijackers and those who supported them pay. I supported whatever was necessary. There were countless times I justified the use of torture to save lives. I ignored the tens of thousands of civilians who were being killed. My soul became warped and I lost sight of the dignity of all human beings, especially our enemies.
We cannot lose sight of the dignity of our enemies as being made in the image and likeness of God. To support torture is to utterly abandon this understanding. A Ukrainian doctor came out supporting the castration of all captured Russian troops. This is evil. To operate in this manner is to unite ourselves with the men in the Praetorium who brutally tortured Our Lord in His scourging. It is to lose our humanity.
I watched this happen to countless friends of mine, but one stands out the most. A friend of mine who was a Marine interrogator tortured many prisoners. The idea that we only use the Army Field Manual for interrogation is a lie. The widely reported use of waterboarding made this reality public knowledge. As he engaged in more and more of these activities, he lost sight of the human beings in front of him. In turn, he lost himself. To dehumanize is to be dehumanized. He committed suicide a few years ago.
War always dehumanizes. It makes us turn into people who desire blood. The mob yelling “Crucify Him!” is not very hard to imagine in times of war because so often we become those people. That isn’t how Our Lord responds, however. He responds in forgiving love. He sees the men crucifying Him and those calling for His crucifixion as His beloved sons and daughters. It is not only the Ukrainians who are His beloved sons and daughters, so are the Russians.
Being an aggressor in a war does not replace the dignity of the human beings involved. God does not stop loving a certain group of people because they have chosen violence. He is always working for their good. He desires their repentance and conversion of heart. That is precisely what He wants for Russia, as much as any other violent aggressor across the world right now. There are many. Tyrants are never in short supply, including in our own country.
We are to seek peace, not war.
Christ says to St. Peter “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52).” Violence always begets more violence, which is why the Church teaches that war is the extreme last resort in a conflict. We are also on the edge of a precipice, a nuclear precipice. We cannot be arrogant or blinded by a desire for vengeance and forget that Russia is a nuclear superpower. It is irrelevant whether or not they are a nation in decline, as some have argued. We are a nation in decline too. We must take seriously any threat involving nuclear weapons. The loss of life would be catastrophic, apocalyptic.
The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine of the Church explains the Church’s view of war and the call to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts:
The Magisterium condemns “the savagery of war” and asks that war be considered in a new way. In fact, “it is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an instrument of justice.” War is a “scourge” and is never an appropriate way to resolve problems that arise between nations, “it has never been and it will never be,” because it creates new and still more complicated conflicts. When it erupts, war becomes an “unnecessary massacre,” an “adventure without return” that compromises humanity’s present and threatens the future. “Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war.”
War blinds us. This blindness is on display through our leaders, as well as the social media mobs. Our call as Christians is to be peacemakers. We are called to love our enemies, including Vladimir Putin. We must desire His good and His salvation. Christ does. Are we somehow superior to Him? To be Christian is deeply demanding. It is not to only side with those who are the victims; it is to work towards the conversion of the aggressor. It is to seek peace between warring parties. Nothing will be lost through pursuing peace. Continuing down a path towards World War III could lead to millions of deaths.
We also need to guard against other spiritual dangers such as bigotry. Times like these unleash terrible temptations to hatred and bigotry. We must pray for the Russian government, the soldiers, and the people of that nation. We cannot foster hatred towards the Russians in our hearts or in others. We also need to be humble enough to see that wars erupt because of issues on all sides. There has been too much pride and corruption on all sides. Humility makes up for many evils.
The need for mercy.
Ultimately the answer to war is to seek peace, whatever justice is reasonably possible in a given situation, and mercy. Justice ultimately belongs to God and we are only able to attain limited justice in this broken world. We fight for it, but often, we discover it is mercy that unleashes tremendous spiritual power upon the world. It is our willingness to forgive and to seek reconciliation that brings peace and healing. Jesus explained the reason for His great mercy to St. Faustina:
“When once I asked the Lord Jesus how He could tolerate so many sins and crimes and not punish them, the Lord answered me, ‘I have an eternity for punishing [these], and so I am prolonging the time of mercy for the sake of [sinners]. But woe to them if they do not recognize the time of My visitation.’”
Let us be peacemakers who seek to spread the mercy of God in dark days. May we avoid the spiritual dangers of war that lead to blindness, hatred, and vengeance. We must seek justice, but through the understanding that we are to work towards peace, forgiveness, and mercy. Above all else, we desire the conversion of souls and an end to this war.