The news reports these past seven days are as though they come from another age, and it is frightening to think that war has again broken out in Europe. Whatever shape it takes, however they arise, war and violence are not part of God’s plan for humanity, but rather he wishes that we live in peace with him and with each other. Sin divides. Sin causes enmity and conflict and the wages of sin, say the scriptures, are death. In a world where the plan of God for our wellbeing and where the commandments of God are overlooked, the result is what we see on the news in these days. Today begins the holy season of Lent when we focus on our sins, on our need for God’s mercy and make resolutions to try again with him. That Lenten resolve is shown into sharp relief by the events unfolding in our world today and they must give us cause to act.
In 1918, Pope Benedict XV wrote “To the Heads of the Belligerent Peoples” calling for an end to the Great War. He stressed that we must live up to the demands of that most universal of laws, the law of charity, and the commands of Christ, and do all that is in our power to be peacemakers. On the world stage, the solutions must be left to statesmen and governments, but to us there is an equally important charge, because we people of faith, we Christians, cannot ignore the threat to all of us and our common happiness and prosperity. If it causes us to worry, it must also spur us on to do what we can. And what can we do in the face of such events?
The peace that Christ offers us, the peace which he brings us is peace not as the world gives — fragile, contingent — but the very peace of Christ himself. This is what is gained when we live as citizens of a far greater city than this, as St Paul reminds us, when the very conduct of our lives, and our dealings with our neighbour is not the conduct of this world, but the conduct of the next. If we have stripped off the old self and put on a new self at our baptism, as St Paul exhorts us to, then we must exhibit those hallmarks of Christian goodness in the world — compassion, patience, kindness, humility and gentleness. Bearing with one another and forgiving one another in turn. And we must show those greatest of the hallmarks of Christian goodness: Faith, Hope and Charity, which have been given us. We must show those around us that this world in all its beauty and richness, but also in its finality and suffering, is not all that there is, and that our God hears our prayers and comes to our aid. We must witness to the fact that our true homeland is in heaven, and live that heavenly life now, in our small corner of the world, among our neighbours and friends. That is how we do our bit and it is no small task.
And most of all we must pray. We must pray for an end to violence and war. We must pray for the people of Ukraine and we must also pray for Russia and her people. We must ask the Lord who is himself the peace of heaven and great calm of earth, to cause his own peace and harmony to abide in the four quarters of the world. May he may bring wars on earth to an end; scatter those nations that delight in war, so that, as the ancient prayer says, “we may enjoy a quiet and peaceful life in all sobriety and fear of God,” and that at long last he may bring us all to that divine harbour of tranquility which is an eternity with him.
Lent is always a good time to take up spiritual tools and bear spiritual arms that bring peace, but those sentiments are even more poignant at a time like this. Perhaps the dust and ashes we place on our heads today might remind us this Ash Wednesday of the dust and ashes of a war torn place, of the lives of many thousands reduced to rubble, of the fragility of this life and how much we must rely on the Lord and live our lives for him knowing that only in him, only in his heart, do we find peace.