A number of days ago I was discussing some of the anecdotes about the Ukrainian children who have recently entered our schools having been displaced from Ukraine as a result of Putin’s murderous war. I would like to share some of the anecdotes with you now. First, a Catholic priest friend of mine was discussing how the school in which he serves as Chaplain had recently enrolled a young girl from Ukraine. He said that the little girl knew no English, but that having been given by the school an iPad, she sits with her new school mates on Google Translate. Her friends are rapidly teaching her English and she – teaching them Ukrainian. Another child, a boy now located in a semi-rural area, was welcomed to his primary school class, by hugs from all his new Australian friends, one who said to him: “No need to feel scared – we are here to protect you!” Still another child was out in the playground when he heard a fire engine or ambulance siren go by – and he immediately ran for shelter – his friends quickly sat beside him and told him not to be worried.
I am very proud to be a Ukrainian-Australian. Australians have such large hearts. I have been even more amazed by the phone calls and messages that I have received from people knowing that I have Ukrainian ancestry – wishing to inform me that they want to help. Friends that I have not heard from for years – donating white goods, and a range of products useful for mothers and children. My ‘mates’ from the Cricket, Tennis or AFL community, who I normally speak with in a humorous manner – when we speak about Ukraine, there is a vastly new dimension – a seriousness that is exchanged, an almost eerie seriousness. We speak on a different level – “What do you need to make their life better Andrew?” I don’t ask anything – they offer immediately. That is the Australian way. Australians are in the vast majority of cases disgusted and horrified by the abject cruelty, inhumanity and animalistic behaviour being meted out by the invaders on the Ukrainians. Australians will not forget what they have witnessed through the media, they will not forget the new friends that they are making – and the bonds that will last a lifetime. First and foremost, the displaced persons from Ukraine are our gift from God – to treasure and to raise up from devastation. If we don’t help – then Putin has been victorious, and we have ignored the knock of Christ at our door. ATK
We read in The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew of the devil seeking to tempt Christ in the Judean Desert. Christ has gone into the desert in order to fast and pray. The first of the temptations that the devil puts forward to Christ is that of seeking to break Christ’s fast, in order to place physical things over the spiritual. The passage reads as follows: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4: 1 – 4, RSV) We must carefully understand Christ’s meaning – “‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’” (cf. Matthew 4: 4, RSV). The use of the word ‘alone’ alters the nuance of the meaning of the sentence. For Christ is not saying that the physical is unimportant – how can it be, if we need food and water to survive? But Christ seeks to emphasize that as our physical needs require satisfying – so too, the human creature is a creature that goes beyond the physical. St. Augustine of Hippo, would say that we are a creature whose mystery is greater than our very selves; we have a spirit, which needs nourishment from, and engagement with, our Creator and our neighbour.
The United States Civil Rights leader of the 1960’s, Martin Luther King Jr., in a text that he wrote, The Measure of Man, discussed the nexus of the human creature being both body and spirit. In this work he said that in purely physical terms, the human person is not really worth that much if we quantify what comprises us: water, iron, sulphur, potassium, calcium etc. The monetary return for these elements and minerals would be low. But then King Jr., asks the question whether our physicality was the limit to human nature. The answer which would shock those who believe in solely the material – is that the spirit is beyond being quantified. Can we quantify the ‘genius’ of Mozart or Michelangelo? Can we quantify the love of a father or a mother? The spiritual is both a reality and a mystery. Being a reality it can be mused upon – and developed – but being a mystery – we can never really fathom its length and breadth. The physical means that it can be touched and harmed – the spiritual can never be confined, other than being united with the body, of which the spirit animates.
A man or a woman can be physically weakened or harmed in the streets of Mariupol, or in Kherson – but their spirit can all the while can still be free. King Jr. concludes that: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We know this to be true – for the annals of the martyrs in our Church, innumerable, testify to the triumph of the spirit over the most wretched of physical circumstances. The situation in Ukraine and in Australia with the arrival of Displaced Persons – challenges both the person seeking refuge, and our capacity to open our hearts. In a time such as this we must act.
The spirit can also be weakened – human beings are far from a block of stone. For this reason the Church in Her wisdom teaches that as we are required to tend to the physical needs of ourselves and our neighbours we need also to ensure that our own and our neighbour’s spiritual needs and welfare are cared for. Therefore we have the Spiritual Works of Mercy. These works are as follows: (i) To instruct the ignorant (ii) To counsel the doubtful; (iii) To admonish the sinners; (iv) To bear patiently those who wrong us; (v) To forgive offenses (vi) To comfort the afflicted; (vii) To pray for the living and the dead.
The suffering that is meted upon us in our lives – requires that we acknowledge that our Spirit must be nurtured. In times of such great challenge; we oftentimes need the help of others to endure. When Christ took His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane the evening before HIs Crucifixion it is evident that He did not do so to take them as His body-guards. He took them to stay awake and pray, to give Him Spiritual solace. But let us carefully remind ourselves of our dual nature: “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch[a] with me one hour? Watch[b] and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.” (Matthew 26: 40 – 44, RSV)
Many now require us to stay awake during their personal Gethsemane, and not fail them as Christ was failed.
So what can we offer to those in spiritual need and crisis? It is critical for us not to let our neighbour live in ignorance of the higher reality or knowledge of hope. Education offers a perspective of truth, that opens up a new world – and fuller way of living. When people are in crisis – their lives are confused – perhaps their meaning to life is failing; by giving good counsel we raise a person from doubt. By admonishing the sinner, and gently so, we stop them from falling into an abyss in which vice eclipses virtue. By bearing the wrongs with patience we do not fall into despair – because every aspect of suffering is viewed by God, who suffers with us – and Who Has suffered with us in the Human Condition. To be able to forgive others the trespasses done to us – is to be divine, as Christ taught us in the prayer that He gave the disciples. It is a Spiritual Skill. It does not mean that we lose our right to self-defence, but it means that we do not descend like a wild animal, into a world without mercy. To not only give physical items to relieve affliction – but to also lend an ear – to quieten our neighbour’s wounded souls, to spend time with the sorrowing – is a spiritual work of mercy. Finally to pray for the living and the dead – privately and as a community; gives courage and hope, to those in crisis.
There is a beautiful passage in the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew – where Christ brilliantly encapsulates the purpose of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. I ask the reader to read this passage twice over, and ask themselves where can they be the Hands of Christ, today, tomorrow and always on their pilgrim journey on this earth: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 31 – 40, RSV)
By Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
This post is also available in: Ukrainian