An Easter of War — and the Dying West

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The flames of war, violence, and terror blaze across the world on this Easter of 2024. While Russia attacks Ukrainian cities with its hypersonic missiles, an attack strikes the heart of Moscow: the massacre is claimed by ISIS and is consumed with the same heinousness with which Hamas attacked the State of Israel on October 7. Europe, lapped by war on its borders, at the March 20-21 European Council in Brussels, reveals its inability to arm itself to defend itself. Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, questioned by journalist Nicola Porro, admits that, faced with an attack like the one on Ukraine, Italy would capitulate immediately (“Fourth Republic,” March 25, 2024).

The problem lies not in the insufficient number of men and weapons, but in the psychological disarmament of the West, where there is no longer a place for sacrifice. The great Spanish thinker Juan Donoso Cortés (1809-1853) asserted that Russia’s hour would sound when socialism extinguished patriotism in the hearts of Europeans (Address to the Cortes on January 30, 1850, in Obras completas, vol. II, Bac, Madrid 1970, pp. 461-462). Patriotism, St. Thomas Aquinas explains, presupposes pietas, a moral virtue that unites love of country with love of parents (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 101, a. 3). Pietas, which before being a Christian virtue was a Roman virtue, is a sentiment now lost in a “cruel and inhuman” society (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Spe Salvi, Nov. 30, 2007), which out of selfishness kills its children.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on Feb. 27, 2024, proposed sending NATO soldiers to Ukraine. But Macron is the same head of state who presented as a “universal message” the constitutionalization of abortion, approved on March 4 by his country’s parliament.  With the denial of the right to innocent life, all moral principles fall, and selfishness and relativism triumph. Who would face, and in the name of what values, the Dagestanians, the Kazakhs, the Buriatians, who from the Caucasus mountains and the steppes of Asian Russia should break into Europe to make it a land of conquest?

Most European political leaders have distanced themselves from Macron’s words, saying that they risk provoking a nuclear war. However, no one remembers that there is something worse than nuclear catastrophe, and that is sin, the transgression of divine law, the true cause of all individual and collective misfortunes of humanity. When this transgression is public and proclaimed as a right, it inevitably draws God’s chastisement upon itself. It is not the proposal to send soldiers to Ukraine that brings the nuclear slaughter closer, but the proclamation of laws, in France and Europe, that destroy at their roots the principles of the natural and Christian order.

In the same month of March 2024, Russia’s best-known journalist, Vladimir Solovyov, discussed on his talk show which French city to strike first with the atomic bomb. “I can’t decide between Paris and Marseille,” he told his millions of viewers (“The Daily Sheet,” March 23-24, 2024).

Words are not deeds, but the ease with which, with gleeful ferocity, the extermination of enemy cities is evoked, paves the way for those deeds. At Fatima, in 1917, Our Lady pointed to Russia as the instrument of divine punishment for the sins of men, and in the secret of La Salette, revealed to Mélanie Calvat in 1846, she expressed herself in these terms: “Paris will be burned and Marseilles will be swallowed up; several great cities will be shaken and swallowed up by earthquakes, it will be believed that all is lost, nothing will be seen but murders, nothing will be heard but the noise of arms and blasphemy” (Jacques Maritain, La Salette, edited by Michel Corteville, Angelicum University Press, Rome 2022, p. 514).

Our Lady wept at La Salette and asked for penance at Fatima. But the words of sin, penance, chastisement, slip, meaningless, over the anesthetized consciences of the men of the 21st century.

On April 9, 1939, Easter Sunday, six months before the outbreak of World War II, Pius XII, who had been elected Pope a month before, implored the world for the peace of Christ: “Not a peace without strife or without battles, but peace won through a wondrous struggle between life and death, mors et vita duello conflixere mirando (Easter Sequence): peace fruit of victory gained at the price of blood since he ‘pacified heaven and earth with the blood of his cross’ (Colossians, I, 20).”

“But alas,” the Pontiff continued, “to no time, perhaps, as to the days we are passing, can the words of the prophet apply: ‘They cried peace, peace; and there was no peace’ (Jeremiah, VI, 14, VIII, 11). For if we turn our gaze around, what a sad spectacle is presented to us! A sense of restlessness and discontent is widespread in the world; a fearful imbalance seems to reign in many regions, a harbinger of greater evils; minds are seized with anxiety and dismay as if we were on the eve of worse days. All this is far from that serene and secure ‘tranquillity in order’ (St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XIX, 13), which constitutes true peace.”
“The unique and unshakable basis on which true peace rests,” Pius XII admonished in his Easter homily, “is God. God known, respected, obeyed. To diminish or destroy this obedience to the Divine Creator is the same as to disturb or completely destroy peace in individuals as in families; in nations as in the whole world.”
When a war breaks out, or is just around the corner, the peacemakers are not those who invoke unconditional surrender to obtain it, but those who remember that there is no peace without justice, no justice without order, and no order possible outside respect for natural and divine law. True peace is exactly what the modern world lacks, immersed in permanent chaos, in the loss of those supreme principles of reference rooted in the law of the Gospel, of which the Catholic Church is the custodian and the Vicar of Christ the public voice. But the aphonia of the Holy Father Francis, toward whom, in these Easter days, the faithful around the world turn with devotion, seems a metaphor for a grave silence enveloping the Church.
Calvary, on Good Friday, was immersed in a mournful silence, interrupted only by the dry orders of the Roman soldiers, the imprecations of the Thieves, and the subdued weeping of the pious women. The sacrifice was to be consummated and the victim offered on the altar was the innocent Lamb, the Man-God who came to redeem the sins of men.
Today, the victim of the sacrifice will be above all a guilty humanity that rejects Heaven’s extreme call to penance. Yet the decisive hours of history are those of surprising reversals: the good thief Dismas and the centurion Longinus publicly proclaimed the divinity of Christ, while the Apostles, except St. John, were on the run.
In this Passover of war, let no one presume upon himself. Have compassion on the dying West. On Calvary Jesus, born as Lux ex Oriente, turned his eyes toward the West, entrusting it with a great mission. “This,” explains St. John Damascene, “is an unwritten tradition of the Apostles: for many are the things which they transmitted to us in unwritten form” (Exposition of the Faith – De fide orthodoxa, Dominican Study, Bologna 2013, p. 603). Justice and peace embrace (Psalm 84) and restore order under the gaze of Christ.
It is enough that this divine gaze full of promise still rests on the dying West, so that life flows again, the darkness thins out ,and the dawn of a new day will commence, which Easter announces: the dawn of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.