By Eric A. Clayton
I spent more time than usual checking my phone this past weekend. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing: at the brewery, beer in hand; at the playground, pushing my daughters on the swing; at a red light in the middle of a bike ride.
I felt a dark, gnawing obligation to stay up-to-the-minute informed on the tragic, horrific events unfolding in Ukraine. All I could do as a person of the world, aghast at the wanton destruction of life and the callous disregard for international norms and respect, was refresh a handful of news apps and scroll through Twitter.
Hardly a great act of global solidarity. But I feel as though I’m not alone in this frustration.
Because as I sipped at my beer at that brewery, I thought of all those both in Ukraine and around the world who would not get a moment of rest and leisure for the foreseeable future. As I pushed my daughters on the swings, I thought of all those families with young children – so similar to mine – now adrift in a sea of impossible, unimaginable choices. And as I rode my bike through the city streets, I thought of those who are now forced to flee their homes and homeland on whatever means of transportation is readily accessible: train, car, foot.
Though so very few of us can affect real, geopolitical change in this moment of darkness, there are a few key things I do believe each of us can and should do. As we prepare for the beginning of the Lenten season, I invite you to consider the following:
- We must pray. Pope Francis – and faith leaders around the world – have implored us to carry the Ukrainian people in prayer and make peace a goal of our Lenten fasting. Let us pray for peace. Let our Lenten fast be one in which we make room in our hearts for both that spark of peace and the intentions of those caught in the crossfire of war.
Our friend Cameron Bellm has written a beautiful prayer for peace that can accompany you in these challenging moments.
- We must stay informed – and help when possible. We bear witness to both scenes of suffering and dehumanization, as well as scenes of resilience and compassion. In moments like these, we cannot turn a blind eye; we cannot pretend that the agony of one part of our human family does not affect the rest of us. “If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (1 Cor 12:26)
Our friends at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA are following the situation closely and are prepared to accompany some of the most vulnerable members of our human family.
- Finally, we must reflect on ourselves. Ignatius, in the “Spiritual Exercises,” makes clear the importance of discovering God’s will for our lives and subsequently choosing that good – for the benefit of ourselves and all of God’s people. In short, good choices lead us into good relationships; good relationships are at the foundation of a world of justice, peace and reconciliation.
The dehumanizing nature of war is just the starkest, most tragic manifestation of a failure to choose the good, a failure to discover God’s desire for us and our world. And war, such as the one we are witnessing now, is a culmination of such failures, of missed opportunities to choose the good.
What does this mean for us? It means that we, right now, in our lives, need to take stock of the choices we’re making, of the relationships we’re tending to, of the care we show ourselves and others. War and violence do not occur in a vacuum. It is clear that there are historical grievances at work in the violence we see today.
As we prepare for Lent, take some time to reflect:
- What past wounds are still lingering and unexamined in your life? How might you heal those wounds? How might you help others heal such wounds in their own lives?
- In what ways big and small is God inviting you to choose the good today? Our God is a God of second, third and 77th chances; if you chose wrongly yesterday, how might you choose better today?
- Who can you go to today – in-person, by phone, via DM – and care for? Who in your life needs that listening ear, that shoulder of support? How can you help another look to our God of love instead of the lies of the one who peddles violence, manipulation and hate?
- Take time imagining God’s dream for the world. Ask God how you might contribute in your own unique way to building up that dream today. Ask God for the grace to know and act upon God’s will in this moment.
Let us continue praying for the people of Ukraine, for those around the world who have Ukrainian heritage and Ukrainian friends, for those most vulnerable members of our human family forced from their homes or now struggling in the face of sanctions from a war they do not support.
Let us pray for wise, prudent decision-making and the protection of all human life.
Let us pray for courage, for resilience, for reconciliation, justice and peace.
Eric A. Clayton is the deputy director for communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith” (Loyola Press). His writing has appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Give Us This Day and more.