Friday, March 25, 2022

The Significance of Today’s “Act of Consecration”

We have participated today in a decisive historical event, as Pope Francis and the Bishops in communion with him, along with priests and faithful throughout the world, solemnly entrusted and consecrated ourselves, all humanity, the world, and especially Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

On this March 25, 2022 - which marks the annual celebration of the Annunciation, of Mary's "fiat" to the angel's message and the beginning of God the Word taking flesh in her womb - the Pope and with him the whole Church once again cried out to the Theotokos, the Mother of God and our Mother, appealing to her all holy Immaculate Heart to obtain from her Son the grace of conversion and peace for ourselves, all humanity, and especially Russia and Ukraine. 

In these days, Russia's armed forces continue to carry out the brutal invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian political power, while other political powers seem to give little thought to God even as they puzzle over how to stop Russian military aggression without setting the world on fire. Meanwhile Ukrainians suffer (once again) from the scourge of their neighbor, with those who can doing their best to defend their homeland, while the vulnerable who are not trapped in the wreckage flee by the millions into exile in Poland and other nations offering them refuge.

And this is just one of the many wars that rage throughout the world. We are all complicit in some measure in the global cycle of violence, because of our sins, because of our hypocrisy, because of the smallness of our love. Therefore, this prayer is rightly penitential and offered in the first person plural to Jesus our Redeemer through His Mother whom He redeemed in a preeminent manner by preserving her from all stain of sin, with the love of His Cross transcending the “limits of linear chronology” and making her holy from the first moment of her own conception. Mary was thus enabled by His grace to cooperate wholly and uniquely with her Son's love for us, and become His gift to each of us: "Behold your mother" (John 19:27).

In this prayer we commit ourselves anew to trust in God's mercy, to conversion of heart, to penance and forgiveness. In this tumultuous epoch, the world must turn frequently to the tender maternal love of Mary's Heart so that she can teach us to live as brothers and sisters in peace with one another and with Jesus. How today's consecration will "unfold" in events to come cannot be predicted. Things "may get worse before they get better," but something irrevocable has happened that will bring about much good in God's time. This is a reason to be encouraged.

My memory is long, and today it harkens back to a similar act of Pope Saint John Paul II and the world's bishops on March 25, 1984. I was 21 years old that year, living in a very tense, strange, and dangerous world with a political geography profoundly different from the one most of you have grown up with and taken for granted. In 1984, the Cold War was like solid ice, and there were no signs on the horizon of any melting. If anything, our hopes for some kind of “thaw” had (as far as we could tell) recently been chilled.

The previous year, the Communist government of Poland had declared marshal law and outlawed the independent Solidarity trade union. Lech Walesa and other Solidarity activists were arrested, and later driven underground and constantly harassed by Communist authorities. The intellectual leaders of “Charter 77” had been silenced and Czech dissident Vaclav Havel was in prison. The few glimmers of hope from behind the Iron Curtain were at their lowest point. But countless people, unknown to the world, prayed, did penance, performed works of mercy, and suffered in union with Jesus. The Mother of God sustained them secretly in the darkness of the imposed atheism of Communist states. Ukraine was a “captive nation,” a “Soviet Republic” brutally suppressed, millions of whose people had been murdered by starvation (the Holodomor) in a famine engineered by Stalin in 1929-32, while others were exiled, displaced, or else forced to conform to the Russian language and Russian ways and suppress their own Ukrainian culture.

In 1984, the Russian-dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its Eastern European satellite nations seemed to have become a permanent fixture on the global map. Moreover, Marxist-Leninist forces had either triumphed or were contending for power in many “hot wars” all over the globe, sustained by Soviet weapons and support, while the USA supported often-repressive dictatorships or violent counter-insurgency groups that covered their own dysfunctions under the cloak of “anti-communism.” 

But we who lived in the wealthy “free world” were not much bothered in our daily lives. We used our freedom not to love and serve God, but rather to plunge into a materialist consumer lifestyle and an individualistic moral anarchy the likes of which had never been seen in all of history. Nevertheless, something of our human sensibility endured, and we accomplished many good things too in those days. But we gave little thought to the fact that the “security” of our ideals and our hedonistic lifestyle - their defense against Communist aggression and nuclear war - came at the price of a “deal with the devil” called Mutually Assured Destruction. Both blocs stockpiled and held in readiness staggeringly enormous quantities of nuclear weapons specifically designed to kill innocent civilians indiscriminately and on a massive scale.

After the consecration of March 25, 1984, there was no immediate dramatic change in this perilous world order. People still had to pray and fast, convert, build up the good, care for the poor, forgive those who had injured them, and love God and trust in the mercy of Jesus Christ. We won’t know all the hidden fruits of Mary’s intercession at that time until the end of history. But no one imagined that before the end of the decade, the Iron Curtain would fall, Eastern Europe would be freed, and - two years later - the seemingly impregnable Soviet Union would cease to exist entirely. New nations appeared on the world stage, and old ones re-emerged from darkness - among the most spirited being a newly independent Ukraine.

It was like a miracle. But it was an incomplete miracle (if that makes any sense). Soviet Atheistic Communism vanished by 1991, but “the conversion of Russia” remains a work-in-progress, and new sources of violence, new wars, and old greed continue to afflict the global village. More recent generations in the secularist liberal West are now so rootless and confused about everything that their ignorance manifests itself as a terrible vulnerability, the damaged half-innocence of wounded children, easily manipulated but also perhaps more disposed (however unconsciously) to encounter God. Beneath the noise, the excess, the unprecedented access to technological power, there is immense suffering. They have much to suffer in the years to come. But Jesus and Mary remember them and look upon them with compassion.

The same compassion encompasses the suffering Ukrainian people. It also encompasses the Russian conscripts who have been thrown into this war of aggression without knowing what they were meant to do, as well as those who should know better: those who are prosecuting this offensive war from fear, insecurity, or their own delusions of national greatness. It reaches out to the victims and refugees of wars everywhere, and calls perpetrators of violence to repentance.

May we all be converted from our delusions and arrogance, to the reality of God who loves us and who wants us to live together in freedom, in fraternal love, interpersonal communion, solidarity, and forgiveness. In following Jesus through Mary, we must not be discouraged. Our hope is eternal life, the gift of fellowship forever with the Trinitarian God who is Love, and also the transfigured fruition of all our efforts to do good in this world, all our hopes to make society better, to be peacemakers, to undertake works of mercy so that life on this earth (even if it will never be perfect and always imperiled by evil) will become more worthy of the dignity of human persons created in God’s image, created and called to be brothers and sisters of Jesus. 

We must not be discouraged, we must keep our hearts centered on Jesus who calls us in this moment of history and promises that our humanity in its desire and struggles and suffering is destined to be fulfilled. Today, we have the special assurance of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that no effort is in vain that endeavors to respond to the redeeming love of her Son, that we must seek His glory every day, in the time that has been given to us to live our lives and offer ourselves even in the smallest gestures of compassion.

May the Lord bring peace to Russia and Ukraine, and to all places of war and oppression. May He accomplish His will in the world, and give us the grace to recognize in faith His merciful wisdom, to obey Him, to follow Him, and to be His instruments…in union with Mary.