It was difficult not to turn away, not to close one’s eyes. The pictures from Bucha, Ukraine, were too painful.
The images were too much for Pope Francis as well. At his general audience on April 6, he held up a Ukrainian flag brought from the “martyred city” of Bucha and reverently kissed it. It was a remarkable gesture coming from a pope who has been repeatedly skeptical about nationalism and its symbols. The pope invited some Ukrainian refugee children to the stage to join him.
On Sunday, April 10, Latin-rite Christians will begin Holy Week. We will hear the opening Gospel, before processing into the church, in which we join ourselves to the crowd shouting “Hosanna” to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. Later, the second Gospel will be read, the Passion account, and we will join the crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” The shift from one Gospel to the other is always jarring, a reminder of the often fine line between grace and evil. It will be harder this year, when the crucifixion of Jesus is less remote, not only in the streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago but in the streets of Bucha and Odessa and Mariupol last week. And next week.
As we look to the dead in Ukraine, it is easier to remember the crucified Lord than the risen Lord, the God who is broken and beaten and murdered, not the glorified Son of God who reigns above.
Suffering is, ultimately, a mystery just like love, which is the other side of the coin of human fragility. No, that is not right. There is no simile. Suffering and love are the same mystery because only those who love suffer. Suffering, whether in Ukraine today or on Golgotha 2,000 years ago, is the face of love in the midst of evil. As Christians, we must always resist the evil, but we must also embrace the suffering in obedience to the example of the Master.
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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.
With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.