The Cross of Jesus and Unrefined Cruelty; A Symbol for our Time

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A message from Bishop Mark L. Bartchak on the one year anniversary of the War in Ukraine

General William Tecumseh Sherman, a leader of the Union army in the Civil War, is credited with popularizing the expression: “War is hell.” During the occupation of Atlanta, Sherman wrote to city officials that “war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” A few years later, he shortened this expression during an address at the Michigan Military Academy when he said, “war is hell.”

During the past year, the whole world has seen and heard about the cruelty of war in Ukraine. There is a danger in watching 24 hour news channels which bring the sights and sounds of death and destruction. It can too easily be perceived as the “war movies” produced in Hollywood which use all sorts of special effects to simulate the environment of war. Its portrayal is surreal.

For our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, war is not surreal. It has become a harsh reality. The cruelty that they are experiencing comes from the realization that they cannot refine what is happening. The aggression continues, and they certainly cannot simply change the channel on TV and find a different reality. The unrefined cruelty of war is on their doorstep every day.

In a special message on February 24, 2023, Pope Francis spoke of the unrefined cruelty of this war: “A sad anniversary, one year since the beginning of this absurd and cruel war, a sad anniversary. The toll of dead, wounded, refugees, those isolated, destructions, economic and social damage speaks for itself. May the Lord forgive all these crimes and all this violence: He is the God of peace.”

These are timely words for all of us during the current season of Lent. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the symbol of “unrefined cruelty.” At the same time, Pope Francis reminds us to ask the Lord to forgive. And he reminds us that God is peace.

This tragic war in Ukraine and the violence reported in our own country and local communities remind us that “war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” Perhaps you and I do not have that power, but it is all the more reason for us to repent, to turn back to the Lord of life and his saving grace.

The Lord Jesus has the power to refine the cruelty of war and every evil. That is the direction that we are reminded to take especially during the season of Lent. It’s the way of the cross. It’s the way that leads us to a renewed hope in the Resurrection which is the Lord’s response to the unrefined cruelty of life.

As Pope Francis said, our brothers and sisters in Ukraine need our prayers. Throughout this season of Lent, I invite and encourage everyone to pray these words that have a special meaning for the people of Ukraine:

We fly to your patronage, O Virgin Mother of God. Despise not our prayers in our need, but deliver us from all dangers, since you alone are pure and blessed. O most glorious ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ our God, accept our prayers and present them to Your Son and our God, that for the sake of you, He enlighten and save our souls.