Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
[Sirach 27:4-7; Psalm 92; 1Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6: 39-45]
Like you, I have been watching with grave concern the events unfolding in Ukraine. What we are witnessing is a brutal invasion by Russia into the sovereign territory of another country, arrogantly presuming to annex its territory, and shamelessly engaging in acts of violence against innocent Ukrainian citizens. Here in Canada our many friends and fellow Canadian citizens of Ukrainian descent are deeply worried about family members caught in the conflict, and extremely anxious about the future of the beloved home country. I want to assure them of our strong and steadfast solidarity. We unite together in prayer for a swift and peaceful end to the aggression, and are committed to whatever acts of concrete assistance we are able to offer.
Over the past few days there have been a great number of analyses offered to our perplexed minds as we all struggle to understand why this violent and senseless invasion is occurring and how to end it. Experts in the geopolitics of Europe propose theories as to the intensions and pretensions of the Russian president, while diplomats and politicians announce sanctions and other measures aimed at forcing a reversal of the aggression. These are all helpful, of course, but what is needed above all is a deep listening to the voice of the Lord, who always draws close to his people in distress. In the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, God has revealed to the world His unconditional love for all humanity, and the way to peace with Him and one another. Jesus is the true expert on humanity. His teaching is the light that leads to understanding and reveals the way forward. Let us turn then to the Gospel and hear what Jesus is saying to us in this very troubling time.
Jesus takes us immediately to the crux of the matter when he says this: “[Each] tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.” Here Jesus points to the fact that the various elements of Creation each act in accord with their own nature. In doing so, Jesus is teaching that we as human beings must do the same: act in accord with our nature. Since God has created us, we act in accord with our nature by acknowledging our reliance upon God in and for all things, by living within the parameters that come with being dependent creatures, and by peacefully accepting those limits with trust in the love and providence of the Lord. We cease to live in accord with our nature when we push beyond our limits and strive to be other than we are created to be. This will often play out in judging ourselves to be shapers of our own destiny, or, what is worse, that of other people.
That is on clear and frightening display at the global level in the Russian invasion. The leadership of that country seems to be operating on the assumption that they themselves can direct the historical development and shape the national contours of the European continent. Such a mindset excludes from all consideration the fact that there is but one Lord of history, and that is Jesus Christ. By his Cross and Resurrection, he has eliminated the “sting of death”, as St. Paul puts it, and thereby directed the entire course of human history toward an eternal destiny. Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord remains always at work in the myriad events of every life to shape them in accord with the Father’s will. Our task is to surrender to the Spirit’s promptings, never presuming that we, who are but disciples, are greater than the Master.
This leads us to the one essential thing that we all must do, especially at this particular moment in human history: place everything at the feet of Jesus, our Master, the Sovereign Lord of history. By this I do not mean that we do nothing else. From within our limited human nature, we do what we can: stand in solidarity with the oppressed, offer concrete assistance to the those in need, welcome the refugee, denounce unjust aggression, engage in fervent diplomatic efforts and so on. But our actions alone do not suffice. We must also ask the Lord Jesus to act in accord with his nature, which is not only human but also divine, unlimited in power. He, who in his teaching today points to the human heart as the root of both good and evil action, is the only one who can change hearts corrupted and hardened by the sin of arrogance and presumption.
For this reason, Pope Francis has asked all members of the Church to unite in prayer and fasting for peace on Ash Wednesday. We most clearly act in accord with our human nature, we are most fully ourselves, when we pray and fast. These actions give expression to our complete reliance upon God’s mercy in all things. Let us be sure to heed the call of the Holy Father and pray for the conversion of hearts that will reverse the spiral of violence and restore Ukraine to peace.
It is necessary, too, of course, to pray for God’s mercy in our own lives. We find ourselves on the eve of Lent, a time of preparation to enter into the season of repentance and renewal. Current global circumstances offer an avenue of self-examination. While we watch with horror the vain attempt of Russian leadership to usurp the place of the Lord of history, let’s also carefully and humbly consider how we, in our own lives, try to shape our destinies, seek to take matters into our own hands, without giving thought to God’s own intentions and how He is directing us. The only secure way to peace in the world and in our own lives is to live according to our nature as the beloved children of God, peacefully dependent upon His love and mercy in all things. Jesus is the Master; we the disciples. He leads, we follow; not the other way around. May the grace of the Eucharist lead us to place every circumstance of our lives at his feet, and surrender to his every prompting as he gives shape to our lives in accord with God’s saving purpose.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
February 27th, 2022