At this year’s Chrism Mass – in which holy oils are blessed and the priesthood is celebrated – at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan chose not to preach. Instead, he gave the pulpit to Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Before Gudziak said a word, the message was clear: he represents a people united with Jesus in suffering. But Gudziak didn’t start there. It began with gratitude – for the Eucharist, for the priesthood and for the people of the United States who demonstrated “incredible” support for the persecuted in Ukraine.
Gudziak thanked his audience, in person and from a distance, for their prayers. Often we think we can’t do anything, but if we are people of prayer, then prayers are meaningful action. We can also provide material support, but do not forget the powerful work of prayer, which helps our own souls as well as the souls of those for whom we pray.
It “has been a Lent and a Holy Week like no other,” Gudziak said. “We ask why. Why this injustice? Why this suffering? Why this cowardly cruelty? And yet, he underlined the hope of Ukrainians and, indeed, of all Christians, who believe in the miracle of the resurrection, in the idea that death is not the end. Gudziak said, “At the same time, embraced by you, anointed by the Lord, by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we claim our brotherhood and sisterhood with Jesus. We recognize ourselves as children of the Father. And we live with hope.
He added, with a tone of confidence that I hope isn’t out of place, “I know the people of New York will open their arms and their homes (to the displaced).”
He said of Ukrainian Christians: “We live with hope, because we see brothers and sisters loving in the highest way. There is no greater love than when you lay down your life for your friends. And this love manifested so directly today in Ukraine inspires us all, in the country and in the world.
Of the example that Easter can provide, he said, “People are walking in the way of Jesus. A nation follows the example of Christ. And the world is inspired. Obviously, not everyone – including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy – is Christian. But there is a solidarity in suffering and hope that is certainly in line with Jesus’ message. It is a challenge for those who are Christians to rise to the occasion in a continuous and lasting way.
And not only for the Ukrainian people. In the Middle East and Africa, Christians are increasingly threatened by terrorist groups. And yet, they continue to live their faith in joyful and inspiring ways, even knowing that it could put them in mortal danger. Something to think about when complaining about the conditions here in the United States.
At St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Manhattan on Maundy Thursday, the preacher told the story of people in Belarus being visited by a priest for the first time in 60 years. They could not have the sacraments without a priest, and so to meet God’s mercy they would go to a cemetery and whisper their sins to a dead priest. What reverence for a faith that continues to strengthen people in their distress. At a time when the importance of organized religion in the United States is so little recognized by secular culture and the powers that be, this news from Belarus is a powerful reminder.
As we follow our “normalcy”, remember the people for whom normalcy is persecution. And get inspired too.
Suffering and death will never have the last word.
(Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor of National Review magazine, and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York City. She can be reached at [email protected])