Saturday, September 9, 2023

The “Russo-Ukrainian War” Must Not Be Forgotten

The “Russo-Ukrainian War” (as it’s being called) is more like the First World War than anyone expected a major clash in Europe in the 21st century would look like. There are many obvious differences, of course: for example the prevalence of unmanned drones in bombing raids. Death and destruction fall anonymously from the air often enough to keep ordinary Ukrainian people constantly anxious and alert. But the front lines of battle are on the ground, and they move slowly and at great cost. Something like trench warfare has made a strange comeback.

What else are we witnessing here in addition to Ukraine’s struggle for the just cause of reestablishing its own legitimate territorial borders? Are we still in “the early days” of an as-yet-unimaginable global war? It has gotten no easier to predict how military conflict may yet escalate, or what future geopolitical problems might emerge from the current situation. These are some of the many obscurities of “the fog of war.”

With an estimated 500,000 casualties and millions of ordinary people brutally driven from their homes and into exile, the present war of Putinist Russian aggression in Ukraine has more than enough carnage to distinguish itself as a significant historical phenomenon (how awful it sounds to classify so much suffering in academic terms!). 

Not surprisingly, it is becoming more difficult to package the news about the war for the typical Western “information consumer.” But no one should forget or make light of this awful war and the suffering it is causing. I am convinced that there can only be a fully “just peace” when Russian leaders repent of their crimes against humanity, not only in this present war, but over a century of crimes perpetrated against Ukraine, against the peoples of Eastern Europe, and against their own people. 

Our Lady of Fatima has promised that “Russia will be converted,” and that humanity will be granted a “period of peace.” We do not know how this period of peace will unfold. It may well be that Russia’s historic riches of culture, religious humanism, and spirituality will be renewed after Russia’s conversion (which must include the effort to make amends for its crimes and the irrevocable and unambiguous renunciation of the criminal regimes that have afflicted so many over the past century). Today’s war criminals must humbly submit to punishment by legally constituted international courts; let them not be met with vengeance, but with appropriate justice that might also become a road of penance and conversion for them. 

Some day, a renewed Russia will hopefully play an important role in shaping a more peaceful world. But the true greatness of Russia is rooted in the centuries of people who followed Christ in simplicity and humility, who were willing to bear their burdens, poverty, and afflictions with a passionate love for Christ and His Gospel. The greatness of Russia is not expressed in nostalgia for the monstrous reign of Stalin. Nor is it served by the sham traditionalism of Putin that is so flimsy that it cannot hide the will-to-power and the nihilism that operate beneath its surface.

Russia’s conversion must pass through a period of penance and self-limitation (as Solzhenitsyn insisted in his open letter to the Kremlin leadership in 1973). But the West must not see Russia’s (increasingly inevitable) decrease in worldly power as a cosmic endorsement of its own vapid, negligent, decadent, and often cruel lifestyle. The West must also be converted before we lose the last fragments of the “civil society” that allows for our most basic freedoms. We must cease our arrogance and corruption, our wasteful self-indulgent “splendid feasts” while the Lazaruses of our world long for the crumbs that fall from our tables.

We must all pray for the grace of conversion, and the grace to recognize and love Christ “in all things and above all things.” Jesus Christ is the Lord of history and He is present now in our lives, in the world, begging for our love. Each of us must seek to reform our own lives through the working of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus, to make reparation for sins through union with His most compassionate Heart, and to beg for peace for all the peoples and places that cry out from the pain of violence and destitution.

May God have mercy on Ukraine and its people, on Russia, on Western nations that have grown fat and lazy and ignorant of God instead of using their abundance to perform works of mercy, and on all the poor, helpless, crushed peoples all over the world. May God have mercy on us all.