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March 11March 11
Lent 2022 has been preoccupied with the madness of war, just as the past two Lenten seasons were preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic and its dire consequences.
During Lent, we long for the liberation and the joy of Easter, but some days it’s difficult to remember that Jesus is walking with us as we confront the evil all around us. We believe that he has conquered sin and death, but it’s not always easy to see the light at the end of our long, dark tunnels.
Imagine living in Ukraine, Syria, Ethiopia or any other war-torn region of the world, to suddenly have your whole world turned inside-out by the destruction and chaos caused by an invading army. Where is the joy of Easter to be found among the ruins of cities and the death and destruction of entire communities of people?
Father Walter Ciszek was an American Jesuit priest convicted of being a “Vatican spy” in World War II. He spent 23 years in Soviet prisons, and he wrote about his experiences living with human cruelty on a daily basis. In his book He Leadeth Me, Father Ciszek writes:
‘They’ve taken the town. The Soviets are here.’ The news spread like panic through the small village of Albertyn, Poland, on October 17, 1939. I had just finished Mass and breakfast on that memorable morning when bewildered parishioners came to tell me the news. It was news we had feared, but now our fears were a reality. Suddenly, our whole world, theirs and mine, had changed. … It is impossible to describe the feeling that comes over you at such a time. … Again and again, I had to force myself not to think of the question that kept returning unbidden to mind: Why has God allowed this evil to happen? Surely he could defend and protect his flock instead of having it singled out for special attack such as this.
Surely the innocent victims of war ask themselves the same question: “Why, O Lord? Why do you permit violence to destroy the peace and harmony of our lives? Where can we look for comfort, for hope, and for a return to the ups and downs of ordinary life?”
Father Ciszek’s response is powerful: He insists that “our God is a kind and loving Father who reaches out to us in all our times of trouble.” God urges us not to place our trust in kings or princes or in armies or the powers of this world. He teaches us again and again throughout all the years that “our faith must only be in him alone.” He consoles us with the assurance that “through every trial and in every age, God alone is faithful in all tribulations, that he alone is constant in his love and must be clung to even when it seems all else has been turned upside down … .”
The Easter experience that we are preparing for this—and every—Lent reminds us that we have been ransomed by the cross of Christ. The unending love of God has shattered the walls of our prisons and shown us the way out. Sin and death have been overcome by the selfless love of Christ, and no one ever has to be condemned to unending death again. This is why we rejoice in the cross of Christ, why we will sing alleluias once again, and why we will give thanks to God for the gift of his saving grace. We believe that in spite of the darkness that surrounds us, we have been liberated by the risen Christ. As a result, no one can ever take away our fundamental rights or our dignity as the free daughters and sons of the living God!
The images of sin and evil are relentless. Day-in and day-out, we witness the horrors of war and the evil consequences of sickness, natural disasters, political upheaval and social unrest. Like the victims of war, we can’t help but ask “Why, O Lord?” The answer is found, paradoxically, in the cross of Christ. This is the only way to redemption. We can’t escape the senseless violence around us. We can only embrace it, as Jesus did, and allow God’s love and mercy to surround us with the gift of his saving grace.
As we conclude our Lenten journey, let’s pray for peace in our hearts and in our world. And let’s take up our crosses and follow Jesus on the way to Easter joy.