The Cross of War

I spoke yesterday at Mass in our monastery chapel to our First Saturday Prayer Group, begun after the 2nd World War by returning American war veterans anxious over the threat of nuclear war arising after that war. They were praying to Our Lady of Fatima for the conversion of Russia, source of that threat then. Now we’re praying for the threat leveled today.

When I look online for news of the war in Ukraine today, I look for interviews with retired American military men, like Generals Petraeus, McMaster, McCaffery, who have been to war and led armies. They’re not only knowledgeable about war, but very cautious about it, learned no doubt from bitter experience.

The other day an excited interviewer asked one of the generals, “Why don’t we send in missiles to destroy that 40 mile column of the Russian army outside Kiev?” The general immediately rejected the suggestion. Probably bring on World War III, he said, but also we need to leave room for diplomacy to work. We can’t let an enemy feel like a trapped animal.

So different from what someone playing video war games online might say. More like what our gospel response Saturday says:”I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live.” (Exodus 33;11)

We have an extraordinary crucifix in our monastery chapel (Above), gift of the German bishops of Bavaria to Fr. Fabian Flynn, a member of my community, for the life he brought to a broken Europe after the 2nd World War. There’s a book about him and his work “The Priest Who Put Europe Back Together” by Sean Brennan, (Washington, DC, 2018)

Father Fabian was ordained here in our monastery in 1931 and served in our retreat house after ordination, then he went on to become an editor for The Sign magazine, a Passionist publication.

He became an army chaplain with the 1st Infantry Division in 1943 during the 2nd World War and served in combat in North Africa, Sicily, France and Germany for 16 months. His unit ended up in Nuremberg, Germany at the time of Nuremberg war trials; Fabian became  chaplain for the Allied participants in that trial. He also ministered to the Germans in Nuremberg, including those on trial as war criminals. 

During the trial, he celebrated Mass in one of Nuremberg’s war-damaged Catholic Churches, for Allied personnel and German Catholics together.

After army service, he became Director of Catholic Relief Services in Germany and Hungary from 1946-49, and until his death in 1973 he worked for the relief of millions of refugees displaced by wars and other tragedies in Europe and elsewhere. 

The crucifix given in gratitude to Fr. Fabian at the end of his service by the German bishops is an old crucifix.  I think it may come from a bombed out German church. It’s a fitting expression of the work he did then, and the work we have before us now as we look at this war in Ukraine.

How shall we look at this war? What shall we do? 

Jesus looked from his cross and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” His plea for mercy was a plea for his world then and a plea for our senseless world now. We need to pray for our world: “Father, forgive us for we know not what we do.”

In Jesus on the cross we also see those who suffer most in this war, refugees, mothers holding their children, the old, the sick, the wounded, the dying. They are all there. 

On the cross Jesus is a sign of all who suffer. “What you do for the least, you do for me,” he says. We must help when we can.

The generals tell us military solutions won’t do it. Neither will economic sanctions. The Cross of Jesus tells us the human heart must be touched and changed, and so we pray to God to touch and change our hearts. 

First Saturday Prayer Group, Jamaica, NY

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