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Ukraine, suffering, and the Passion of Christ

Holy Week this year is a time for solidarity with those suffering from the terrible events in Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to the grave of a civilian in Bucha, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. Local residents said the civilian was killed by Russian soldiers during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (CNS photo/Alkis Konstantinidis, Reuters)

Holy Week, the week of Christ’s suffering and death, has a special name this year– Ukraine. Let Caryll Houselander explain why that’s so:

For us, this war is the passion of Christ. There is no need now to dwell on its cruelty….

To the natural eye it seems that out of this war nothing could possibly result but bitterness, hatred and ruin; and indeed, nothing else could result from it were it not for one person–Jesus Christ, our Lord.

These are the opening words of Houselander’s remarkable book This War Is the Passion.

Written as bombs rained down on London during the Nazi blitz, the book first appeared in 1941, and the war Houselander had in mind was naturally World War II, then at a point when all seemed lost. But her words still stand, as I’m sure she intended, not just for that war but for every war in every time and place.

Houselander, one of the finest spiritual writers of the last–or any–century, wrote within a theological tradition that begins with Saint Paul and understands the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ in a real, not merely metaphorical sense. Viewed this way, the experience of human suffering is seen as being a form of sharing in the passion of Christ. And understood like that, the war in Ukraine, with all its suffering and horror, also is a participation in Jesus’ suffering.

Pope Saint John Paul II develops this theology at length in his 1984 document on “the Christian meaning of human suffering,” Salvifici Doloris, a profound meditation on Paul’s statement in his letter to the Colossians: “I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the church” (Col 1: 24).

Membership in the Mystical Body necessarily involves a unique solidarity among the members, and suffering plays a special role in this, contributing to what Saint Augustine calls the “common treasury” of merit. “Into this common treasury,” he wrote, “each pays what he owes, and according to each one’s ability we all contribute our share of suffering. The full measure of the passion will not be attained until the end of the world.”

But what about those who are not visibly members of Christ’s Church? The French philosopher Jacques Maritain gave a bold answer to that. Such people, he wrote, are “making manifest the same agony” that Jesus expressed in his final cry of abandonment from the cross.

Speaking of those he called “the great flock of the truly destitute, of those dead without consolation,” Maritain asked, “Would Christ not take care of those who bear this mark of his agony? How could it happen that their very forsaking itself would not serve as the signature of their belonging to the crucified Savior?”

Holy Week this year is a time for solidarity with those suffering from the terrible events in Ukraine–the dead, the wounded, the bereaved, Ukrainians and also Russians–all thrust by someone else’s ruthlessness into a conflict they neither sought nor deserved.

And the message of Holy Week must finally be the message of this war. Give Houselander the final word on that:

“Love alone, love only, can save us from being swamped and swept away by the evil passions that war must let loose….If we dare now to act by faith and to let his love be as strong in us as his pain is, then it will bear fruit, in proportion to its magnitude of grief.”

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About Russell Shaw 292 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. Dear Russel Shaw thank you for a nicely written defense of the value of war & its seemingly never ending horrors. In reading it I gained an impression of being anaesthetized; having my Holy Spirit discernment quenched; being persuaded to think normal & regular what is the antithesis of the teachings of The Prince of Peace; even to thinking that wars are part of God’s Kingdom Come!

    Surely, atheist Marxist, Xi Jinping is smiling enigmatically as he observes two supposedly Christian countries creating hell on earth; tearing into each other worse than any savage beasts. I imagine Xi saying: “They really know how to forgive their enemies, don’t they!” “Seeing what these christian hypocrites do to one another, obviously anything goes . . .”

    After thousands of terrible examples in our history, we again observe institutionalized Christianity betraying simple people’s personal faith in and love of the one and only Prince of Peace. So, let everyone who loves Jesus Christ beware of principalities and powers ever-ready to conscript them into thinking, speaking and doing the Devil’s murderous work, in the name of religion. How few are those who insist that: ‘War is Sin Written Very Large Indeed!’

    Yes, we belong to the once torn & murdered Body of The Lord Jesus Christ, BUT Christ’s Body is now glorified, ascended, sitting on God’s eternal throne, and owning comprehensive authority to judge the heavens and the earth and the entirety of humankind. Let’s constantly recall 1 John 3:8b “It was to undo all that the Devil has done that the Son of God appeared.”

    We really need to be clear-minded to distinguish the work of our beloved Lord from the works of the enemy of humankind, the devil, Satan, that ancient serpent. Apostle John prophesied such wickednesses will only get worse as we approach the end-time event.

    In Ukraine we are seeing the mouth of Hell open, showing us what Hell’s inhabitants will be doing to each other, whilst perpetrating these horrors on one another through all eternity, in their stubborn, blind belief that they are pleasing to God!

    Surely, that’s a deadly conflation we need to steer well clear of . . .

    Ever in the merciful love of Jesus Christ; blessings from marty

  2. “Ukrainians and also Russians–all thrust by someone else’s ruthlessness into a conflict they neither sought nor deserved”

    A Bully- is one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable and this trait is often manifest in tyrants and worldly ambitious men, men without consciences who often possess the manipulative power of evil who are then able to influence others to do (Whatever it takes as in the means justifies the end) evil. These men are not madmen but rather corrupt men many of whom are world leaders in politics, commerce, religion etc with their own agendas

    Quote “Peace at any price is not really peace. It is simply cowardly capitulation to evil”

    As a Christian, this capitulation should be understood as a cowardly capitulation to the evil values of the Prince of this world who gives mankind a false peace, as it is a peace that realizes upon the ever-increasing capacity of weaponry held in the hands of worldly men (Many without consciences) aided and abetted by ‘Christians’ ..V.. As His true peace is given in our faithfulness to Him via the light of the Holy Spirit which cannot be taken from us.

    This collusion with evil will eventually lead us into the Apocalypse.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ


  4. Relevant news item: A Ukrainian and a Russian were invited to lead the Vatican’s Via Crucis.
    Ukraine wants Pope Francis to reconsider.

    The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church asked Pope Francis to scrap plans to have a Ukrainian woman and a Russian woman carry the cross together during the pope’s Way of the Cross service.

    Psycho-socially, this is an eminently understandable reaction.

    However, as Christians deeply longing above all things for God’s Eternal Kingdom of Forgiveness and Peace, the U.C.C. is way off.

    Surely the vision of the common humanity of these two women carrying The Cross might even pierce the heart of those so misled by evil as President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill.

    I hope Pope Francis will not be deterred.
    Even in the deepest darkness, let’s keep the Light of Christ shining.

  5. A highly relevant new revelation:

    How alert are Catholics (and other believing Christians) to their communities being targeted by those with agendas totally at odds with the teachings of our One and Only Teacher: Jesus Christ of Nazareth?

    The very essence of our Faith involves dropping our guard against opponents, trusting people, excusing failures, being ‘nice’ to everyone. Thus, institutionalized religion can offer a soft option to unbelieving and unscrupulous power-mongers, wealth-seekers, and political manipulators. Like Judas Iscariot, to be included they simply have to ‘learn the lingo & the rituals’ and be competent pretenders.

    King Jesus Christ gave us the solution: any among us who aspire to dominance must become the slave servant of everyone else. THAT, is the royal way and sovereign solution to counterfeits and manipulators. Pope Francis shows signs of realizing this.

    The Church’s failure to major on Christ’s self-humiliating way of advancement subtends the majority of the terrible wounds she has suffered throughout history and that she is manifestly suffering at this very moment.

    Resplendent in his expensive robes, our local PP (a self-confessed millionaire and energetically evangelizing freemason) told me on one occasion that I need to look upon him as God, rather than Christ. Sadly, this charismatic man is also influential in the training of seminarians and is very close to our Archbishop. I’m worried about how widespread such reversals of Christ’s teachings are becoming.

    Let all ordinary faithful Catholics and other Christians beware (see 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1; etc.) and, be sure to dwell on The Word of God and not on starry-eyed assumptions about anyone who rises to a position of authority.

    Our allegiance is a most precious quality and we must guard it constantly.

    Always in the grace & mercy of Jesus Christ; love & blessings from marty

    • Thank you Martin some good posts here.
      ‘Obedience to God comes before obedience to men.’ (St Peter – Acts 5: 29)

      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      • Many thanks dear Kevin. We both seem to be in tune with Pope Francis.

        “To wage war, which marks a failure of politics and humanity, is to surrender to the forces of evil”, Pope Francis wrote in the introduction to a new book in Italian, titled, “Contro la Guerra. Il Coraggio di Costruire la Pace” (“Against War. The Courage to Build Peace”).

        Seasons blessings & eternal love in the Lord Jesus Christ, from marty

  6. In ‘The Conservation’ of Tuesday 26th April 2022:

    ‘Bloody-hunting slaughtermen’, sieges and ‘lechery’: what does Shakespeare tell us of war? Article by Robert White, The University of Western Australia.

    “In 26 of his 38 plays, Shakespeare includes a war. Reading them, one is tempted to ask: ‘when will we ever learn?’ rather than pronounce: ‘lest we forget’.”

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