The Heartbreaking Reality of War

St. Michael’s by Rbrechko - CC BY-SA 4.0,

St. Michael’s by Rbrechko – CC BY-SA 4.0,

A father in Ukraine sends his daughter on the last train to safety, while he stays behind to fight aggressors taking over his country.  Captured on this short video, it’s the choice every man aged 18 to 60 in Ukraine is having to make.  Of course, both Ukrainians and Russians have sons and daughters like in the video, fathers and mothers whom they leave, not knowing whether they will meet again.  We pray for them all.

Let us also not forget in our prayers the Russian soldier who may not want to go to war but dare not disobey a powerful regime.  There are reports of young conscripts who were told they were going on a practice drill, only then to discover that they are commanded to fire on Ukranians, some of whom could even be their relatives.

Churchill described war as “The dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime”, yet we seem to be adding to this everyday all over the world.  But surely not again in Europe?  Have we almost developed a feeling of confident security here that, because two horrific world wars happened a lifetime ago, we think of war as something that occurs in other more distant places?  Until now.

For Christians, all this brings with it questions about the morality of war.  So just what is the Church’s teaching on this?

Clearly, the Christian ideal is for no war but brotherly love among all people.  However, in this imperfect world, war may be forced on those who do not desire it. Christian theologians St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas are primarily responsible for formulating the Theory of Just War which has remained the majority Christian approach to war to this day.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that war must be waged only in response to certain, grave and lasting damage inflicted by an aggressor.  The motive for war must be advancement of good, avoidance of evil with the ultimate objective to bring peace. Therefore, revenge, a desire to harm, dominate or exploit are not justification for war.  Paragraph 2309  teaches that at one and the same time “all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;   there must be serious prospects of success;   the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”

The war must also be carried out in a just way.  Despite the immense evil of war, Jesus said it is inevitable that wars will continue until He returns (Mark 13:7-8), and He did not oppose earthly governments or their right to maintain armies (Matthew 8:5-10, Luke 3:14, Acts 10:1-6)

For the average person who has little influence over unfolding events, these are perhaps moments when we’re called to see and strengthen ourselves, to purify ourselves. Hence the wisdom of the splinter versus the plank in one’s eye, the advice Christ gave when we see sin and evil.  The one thing we can actually do is to pray and not just watch, to remember who the King is and whose kingdom will conquer.

We might take a Ukranian example in this respect.  St Michael the Archangel is the patron of Kiev and his statue is a prominent landmark in the capital city.  Many churches have been built in his honour, including the gold-roofed St. Michael’s Sobor in Kyiv.  St. Michael is found on Coats of Arms, banners and in the past on postage stamps there.  Let us pray daily:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in our battle and be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.    Amen.