Prayer for Peace in Ukraine, 2 March 2022, Mark 11:23-26

Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

Slava Isusu Chrystu!  [Glory to Jesus Christ!]

We are gathered to pray for peace in Ukraine and the end of war, that wisdom might prevail and those we know and love be once more made safe and secure.  We are also gathered in Christ’s name to support each other as the community of the baptised and to learn once more what he would ask of us in our faith.

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I stand before you as a Roman Catholic bishop who in 2015 was given the grace of visiting Ukraine and greeting the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops who were about to gather in synod. Memories remain of churches of vibrant beauty, of liturgies sung with living faith, of warm welcome and hospitality, of intricate needlework and wonderfully decorated eggs (!); and also of that other story that had to be told, where Christian faith gave witness as lives were lost and society destroyed under great oppression and persecution.

I must admit that in this moment of terrible trial for Ukraine I am hesitant to speak.  In Australia we live our lives in relative tranquillity and safety, so what do we know?  But our faith calls us forward and we stand together.

In our gospel Jesus challenges us to be strong in faith, to persevere in prayer, and to forgive, that we in turn might be forgiven by our heavenly Father.  Prayer is central to all this.  Prayer is to Christian life as breathing is to physical life. We know that faith without works is dead, but do we accept that other part, that a faith without prayer is a dying faith?  There is no genuine Christian life without the practice of prayer, some personal involvement in prayer.  Not someone else leading us in prayer or doing it for us, but we ourselves, created by God and aware of our need.

When we pray we stand unprotected before God.  What will God do? He will take possession of us; indeed, that he should do this is the whole purpose of life.  Faith is where we let go, surrendering our own securities and taking Christ alone as our rock.  In this we relive Christ’s own self-emptying, accepting the harsh experience of our poverty and our limitation, and refusing to avoid it, accepting to stand, in deed, not just in pious imagination, before the living God.  When we do this, when we face our poverty radically, then for the first time we find ourselves in a position to live the meaning of faith.  Here is where we make the words of the psalmist our own, “In you alone have I hoped; never let me be put to shame.” (Ps.71:1)

For a Roman Catholic one of the noticeable features of your Greek Catholic liturgy is the number of times you make the sign of the cross – it’s hard to keep up!  But the sign of the cross is really our family likeness. It is the sign which begins and ends Christian life, the sign with which we mark ourselves at the beginning and conclusion of every prayer. The sign of the cross becomes our great act of faith by which we say to God, “Let the sign of your Son’s life be traced across mine, that you might see and love in me the same things you see and love in Christ.”

Wherever Christians have found themselves having to endure patiently either the daily cares of human life or the humiliation and persecution brought on by their witnessing to the Gospel, they learned to read their experience in terms of the experience of Christ. We too are being formed anew through the mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising. When we make the sign of the cross we are accepting the call to live faithfully without fully understanding the whole plan of God in our lives.  We trace upon ourselves the cross of Jesus’ self-giving love, a love lived out even to death.

As we take that path in prayer, Jesus calls us to forgive, to pass on the very same forgiveness that our Father in heaven has shown us. Gospel forgiveness is special because it’s an act of mercy, of love. It is to wish well towards someone who finds themselves in evil, and is shown towards enemies as well as friends. It does not mean to forget, or to let go, or to excuse.  Instead, it is to make visible the mercy of God.  It has no limits because the measure of our forgiveness is the Father’s love, and not our own.

To forgive is to carry together the errors and the evil for as long as they cannot be eliminated.  Often we are capable of forgiveness only when we see the change and are sure it’s effective.  But it takes a long time to reach perfection; patience is needed.  That’s why Jesus said seventy-seven times, that is, always.

To forgive is to remember the evil and put it into the memory of the saving events, of the Father’s merciful love shown in Jesus’ own forgiveness and self-offering. Our forgiving can bring pardon to others and change the world in which we live.  In this way evil summons forth a greater, a redemptive love.  Under God’s grace may that love now flourish in Ukraine, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.