Lenten Reflections for World (and Russian) Religious Leaders on the Ukraine Invasion

by Bobby Reyes

A priest blesses the Ukraine Sich Police Battalion during the 2014 War | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Part VIII: The Ukraine Crisis

This columnist and his wife returned as “prodigal parishioners” in September 2021 to the St. Dennis Catholic Church (SDCC) in Diamond Bar, CA. It is three times as far as the nearest Catholic church closest to their residence. Why the sacrifice of driving nearly six miles (one way) more to go to SDCC? Because the priests at the SDCC appear to be “Abraham Lincolns’ sermons.”

Remember President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which lasted just under three minutes? The speech reflected his redefined belief that the Civil War was not just a fight to save the Union but also a struggle for freedom and equality for all. It was Mr. Lincoln’s shortest speech, but the world remembers it most. Therefore, any speech or sermon is not judged according to its length but to its relevance for the present and coming times.

This writer is perhaps the only Catholic layman that uses the stopwatch in his smartphone to know the exact length of sermons that he hears. SDCC pastor, Fr. John Palmer, delivered his meaningful homily on Tuesday’s evening mass (March 8 in the first week of Lent) at 02:08.30. The following night’s mass, the SDCC associate pastor, Fr. Dennis Mongrain, delivered an equally-meaningful sermon in 01:30.17. Perhaps we should call both as “Fr. John and Fr. Dennis of Gettysburg,” for they have been providing some of the shortest but most relevant sermons that this journalist could recall — even in his stint as an altar server (for seven years) and 12-years as a student in three Catholic schools in the Philippines.

“Since President Vladimir Putin of Russia comes apparently from a family of Orthodox Russians, perhaps this Lenten season’s gospel readings may cause him to pause and consider the teachings handed down by the prophets, especially Jesus Christ.”

After Wednesday’s mass and a novena to the Blessed Virgin of Perpetual Help (that lasted only some 38-minutes), Fr. Dennis started the first of the Lenten Gospel Reflections (LGR) at the SDCC. He delivered his reflections in 24:34.55. Ergo, Fr. Dennis could also talk that long if warranted. The LGR participants were provided, gratis et amore, with a booklet compiled and annotated by Bishop Robert Barron, as published by Word On Fire.

Ash Wednesday on March 2, 2022, was the beginning of a 40-day “season of spiritual refreshing” called Lent. Lent translates from a Middle English word that means “spring.” Lent can be a 40-day springtime for the soul in an absolute sense. A time of planting, nurturing, and God’s care.

It is predominately observed by Catholics (and the Orthodox, albeit on a slightly different calendar), but Christians of all denominations can participate. About a quarter of Americans observe Lent (including 61-percent of Catholics and 20-percent of Protestants), according to a 2017 Lifeway poll.

Since President Vladimir Putin of Russia comes apparently from a family of Orthodox Russians, perhaps this Lenten season’s gospel readings may cause him to pause and consider the teachings handed down by the prophets, especially Jesus Christ. Because as this writer was taught by his Catholic teachers, “man does not live by bread (and/or guns) alone.” Besides, Mr. Putin chose to invade Ukraine a week before Ash Wednesday.

Fr. Dennis reflected on the gospel reading that Wednesday (March 9), Luke 11:29-32. The opening verse says: (29) As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah …”

Fr. Dennis emphasized what Bishop Barron wrote at the end of his reflection on Luke 11:29-32: “Jesus Christ’s ministry is a ministry of life, of the triumph of life over death.” Perhaps the leaders of the various Christian, and other religions, may want to remind Mr. Putin, his cronies and advisers of Christ’s ministry. Yes, even if the Russian military and their mercenaries might have killed most Ukrainian soldiers, civilians, and their leaders, ultimately, there will be a triumph of Ukrainian life over death — as caused by the Russian invaders.

“It is time for the people of faith and goodwill to act and not only preach the Good News. Perhaps in the history of religion, the most significant “miracle” of all time would happen then in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.”

Perhaps the leaders of the world’s most prominent religions — from the Catholic Church, the Protestant Churches, the Orthodox Churches (including the Eastern Christian or Orthodox denominations) to the Jewish faith, Muslim (both the Shiite and Sunni branches) to the Hindi, the Buddhists and other interfaith organizations — should assemble at the border of Poland and Ukraine. And lead an international caravan of unarmed peacekeepers, medical professionals, and logistics personnel that will deliver food, water, basic supplies, and therapeutic medicines, including needed vaccines, to all four corners of Ukraine.

This columnist thinks what happened in February 1986 in Metropolitan Manila (Philippines) would be replicated in Ukraine. The Filipino armed-forces units and police — then controlled by Dictator Ferdinand Marcos — refused to shoot the priests, ministers, pastors, deacons, nuns, lay leaders, and followers. Many of the soldiers and police officers abandoned the Filipino despot and joined the crowd of peaceful protesters.

It is time for the people of faith and goodwill to act and not only preach the Good News. Perhaps in the history of religion, the most significant “miracle” of all time would happen then in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

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