by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This is an Easter reflection with a somber background. Its context is the title given to it by Pope Francis, “An Easter of War” in his Urbi et Orbi blessing at Holy Week. It draws heavily from an op-ed column by Michael Gerson published in The Washington Post (that very secular newspaper not especially friendly to religious subjects) on Tuesday of Easter Week.
First an instructive word about Gerson. He writes a column every other day. As a prominent Republican – formerly a speechwriter for President George W. Bush – and Evangelical Christian, one might expect that his thoughts on topics of faith would run toward biblical fundamentalism. However, he is much more mainstream in his religious observations.
Gerson’s column addresses what must surely occupy believing people in these times: Where is God? Where is this “Loving Father-Creator” when even celebration of his son’s resurrection is called an Easter of War, epitomized vividly by the obscene brutality and carnage of Mr. Putin’s Ukrainian invasion?
Without simply reprinting this superb essay, let me comment on one or two of his principal points. He starts with the chilling story of a Jewish boy executed by hanging during the Nazi Holocaust. It took half an hour for the lad to die, during which fellow prisoners who were forced to witness this unspeakable torture cried out, “Where is God? Where is he now?” As we know, the same question repeats itself in our minds and hearts again and again as these sorts of inhuman atrocities go on all over the world despite well-meaning declarations of “never again”.
In fact, the wonderful Jesuit liberation theologian, Jon Sobrino, has written an entire book entitled precisely Where Is God? As someone who experienced firsthand a terrible example of evil in the execution of his six Jesuit brothers and two women collaborators at the hands of the Salvadoran military, Sobrino has every right to speak about this question.
Back to the Gerson article. He brings it to conclusion writing, “the Christian faith does not set out a philosophy explaining the problem of evil. It responds instead with a Person.” That is, the founder of our faith was himself the victim of “a slow execution, faithless friends, bloody sweat, thorny crown, nails, the wooden beam, the cry of thirst and, incredibly, the call upon a vanished God, ‘Why have you abandoned me?’ And Christian faith declares that Person to be God!”
So, this conservative, Evangelical Christian ends with a proclamation of faith: “Against all my doubts, I choose to believe in a God with scars.”
In the same vein the German Christian pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who personally experienced the horror of Nazism and was hanged to death for his outspoken opposition to it, once declared, “Only the suffering God can help.” Others have taken the same “leap of faith”. Sobrino puts it in a similar way. His simple and stark answer to “Where is God?” in the midst of human depravity, and even natural catastrophes, is “God is on the Cross.”
For us who struggle to understand God’s seeming absence at this truly horrific moment in human history, these insights are enormously uplifting, particularly as we move through these forty days of what, God forbid, is a new normal – the Easter of War. They drive us back to Holy Week and the memory of Jesus’ deadly encounter with sin – writ large. They renew the conviction that without Calvary, Easter has no meaning; that despite all the evidence to the contrary, the darkness of evil will not overcome the light of Christ. Clinging to this understanding of God’s presence in the middle of all that is wrong, evil, and unjust today helps us proclaim sincerely with the whole People of God:
“LORD, BY YOUR CROSS AND RESURRECTION, YOU HAVE SET US FREE – YOU ARE THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD!”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.