Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox stand this week in our churches and look at the Cross – resting on a bed of blood-red flowers, mixed with basil for the King of the Jews Who is also King of Heaven, resting on the table right in front of the step to the Royal Doors, the Altar, and the Tabernacle where that same King lives on earth among us. It is a powerful symbol, the Cross: I have been preaching for three Fridays now at the Annunciation Church here in Albuquerque at their Stations of the Cross. So my Lenten meditations have been very focused on the Cross of our Savior much more so than usual.
When Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, and that pole thudded deeper into Calvary, Hades cried out in pain – so it says in the Divine Offices of this week – realizing that it would soon be forced to give up its hold on the souls of the millions of the Just who had died since the Fall, including the two protagonists of our Fall, Adam and Eve themselves. For all Byzantine icons of the Resurrection depict Jesus freeing those two from their multi-millenial prison, along with everyone else, and pulling them upward to the Father. But it is only possible to get to Heaven through the Cross – no one has gotten there without pain. Why pain? Because to be stripped of our selfishness hurts, and things that hurt often help us to do that. An interesting paradox! My multiple ailments hurt me like the dickens sometimes, but properly understood, the physical decline and losses and pain can be utilized to unite with Jesus’ unique Passion and so save souls in this generation. More so, it purges me, and helps me to shed the things I want to hold onto that just won’t fit into Heaven. A painful process all around, and frustrating/ tiring/ annoying/ etc. But definitely it can lead me somewhere better. That is most certain. And that holds true for all of us.
We had the funeral of an 86 year old man today, the husband of my former secretary. He was a feisty little fellow, but devoted to
God and family above all. His Slovak father left the green farms of the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains to work in a steel mill in Pennsylvania so as to give his children a better life. This fellow worked not only in the gas company but multiple side jobs so that all three of his children could go to college. And they paid back handsomely this past year during his painful decline with solicitude and caring for both of their elderly parents. Too many people in our country today are left alone in nursing homes – the throwaway culture bemoaned by Pope Francis has reaped a bitter harvest from aborted babies to needless euthanasia of the sick and elderly. This family showed that when Catholic values are lived out in an average middle-class American family, the harvest can be sweet and truly edifying. God grant “Big Al” eternal memory, and that the example of his daughters would be multiplied elsewhere.
And Ukraine stands today shorn of Crimea, Russian troops at the eastern doorstep, land-locked Transnistria now rears its head as the next possible target for Putin’s rescue of allegedly endangered Russians. A sliver torn out of Moldova in a brief war, this country survives between Moldova and Ukraine sustained by a Russian base of 1,200 soldiers and hopes for rescue by Moscow. It is yet one more Russian-speaking island of people who felt abandoned by the motherland after the peaceful death of the USSR. There is actually a slim Moldovan majority of 32%, Russians number 30.5%. Like other sections of old Eastern Europe, it is a multi-ethnic country with Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Gagauz and a mix of Jews, Roma and Poles, but a Russian-speaking state. It is 91% Eastern Orthodox, 4% Roman Catholic. The people are subjected to limited freedom of the press; arbitrary arrest and torture; limited freedom of religion; no freedom of assembly (US State Department Human Rights Reports 2006-2011). So, Russia could strike from the east – or claim endangered people on the western border.
Lord our God, have mercy, and grant that the cause of Peace will win out over the violent desires of Your ill-minded servants! Holy Mother of God, intercede for this long-suffering land. SS. Volodymyr, Olga, Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves, and Ukrainian Saints and Martyrs intercede with God for the peace of your homeland.
PS Crimea will go on Moscow Time on March 30. Crimea is nowhere near the Moscow time zone, but then Stalin’s acquisitions weren’t either, and they all had to go on Moscow Time in 1940 and 1945. Live under Moscow, keep time with Moscow, even if it makes no logical sense whatsoever. We’ll see how long those who “voted” are happy that they live under Moscow.