During his Wednesday audience of March 16, 2022, Pope Francis commented that for all our talk of progress, “our imagination appears increasingly concentrated on the representation of a final catastrophe that will extinguish us…an eventual nuclear war… it seems that the symbol of the flood is gaining ground in our subconscious.”
It is not the first time that Pope Francis has reflected on the story of the flood and Noah’s Ark in the context of war. In a homily from February 2019, he said:
“I don’t think our times are better than those of the flood; I don’t think so. Calamities are more or less the same; the victims are more or less the same. Let’s think about the example of the weakest: children. The many hungry children and children without education cannot grow in peace. [Many are] without parents because they have been massacred in war… child soldiers… Let us just think about those children.”
In his remarks last Wednesday, the Pope condemned a certain kind of corruption: the refusal to care about the evils that plague the world, which turns us all into accomplices. He said:
The world of corruption seems to be part of the normality of the human being, and this is bad…As long as normal life can be filled with “wellbeing”, we do not want to think about what makes it empty of justice and love. “But I am fine! Why should I think about problems, about wars, about human suffering, all that poverty, all that evil? No, I am fine. I don’t care about others”. This is the subconscious thought that leads us towards living in a state of corruption.
Can corruption become normal, I wonder? Brothers and sisters, unfortunately, yes. We can breathe the air of corruption just as we breathe oxygen. “But it is normal; if you want me to do this faster, what will you give me?” It is normal! It is normal, but it is a bad thing, it is not good! What paves the way for this? One thing: the carefreeness that turns only to self-care: this is the gateway to the corruption that sinks the lives of all of us. Corruption benefits greatly from this ungodly carefreeness. When everything is going well for someone, and others do not matter to him or her: this thoughtlessness, it weakens our defenses, it dulls our consciences and it turns us – even involuntarily – into accomplices. Because corruption is not solitary: a person always has accomplices. And corruption always spreads, it spreads.
The wisdom of the elderly, Pope Francis said, can counteract this kind of corruption and selfishness. In fact, the elderly are called to step into a prophetic role, modeling unselfishness and caring for the younger generations. The Pope presents Noah as a model of such unselfish care:
And Noah is the example of this generative old age: it is not corrupt, it is generative. Noah does not preach, he does not complain, he does not recriminate, but rather he takes care of the future of the generation that is in danger. We seniors must take care of the young, of children who are in danger. He builds the ark of acceptance and lets people and animals enter it. In his care for life, in all its forms, Noah obeys God’s commandment, repeating the tender and generous gesture of creation, which in reality is the very thought that inspires the command of God: a new blessing, a new creation (cf. Gen 8: 15-9,17). Noah’s vocation remains ever relevant. The holy patriarch must once again intercede for us. And we, women and men of a certain age – so as not to say elderly, as some will be offended – let us not forget that we have the possibility of wisdom, of saying to others: “Look, this path of corruption leads nowhere”. We must be like the good wine that, once aged, can give a good message, not a bad one.
More than ever in the past few weeks, Pope Francis has stepped into this role of the protective and prophetic “elder.” At the end of his Angelus address on Sunday, March 13th, he called for an end to the invasion of Ukraine, the protection of civilians, and the welcoming of the refugees of war:
Brothers and sisters, we have just prayed to the Virgin Mary. This weekend, the city that bears her name, Mariupol, has become a city martyred by the ruinous war that is devastating Ukraine. Faced with the barbarism of the killing of children, and of innocent and defenceless citizens, there are no strategic reasons that hold up: the only thing to be done is to cease the unacceptable armed aggression before the city is reduced to a cemetery. With an aching heart I add my voice to that of the common people, who implore the end of the war. In the name of God, listen to the cry of those who suffer, and put an end to the bombings and the attacks! Let there be real and decisive focus on the negotiations, and let the humanitarian corridors be effective and safe. In the name of God, I ask you: stop this massacre!
I would like once again to urge the welcoming of the many refugees, in whom Christ is present, and to give thanks for the great network of solidarity that has formed. I ask all diocesan and religious communities to increase their moments of prayer for peace. God is only the God of peace, he is not the God of war, and those who support violence profane his name. Now let us pray in silence for those who suffer, and that God may convert hearts to a steadfast will for peace.
The Pope has been working towards diplomatic solutions that will bring protection to the weak. In an unprecedented move, he paid a personal visit to the Russian Embassy to express his concern over the war. He has called both President Putin and President Zelensky, as well as regional religious leaders. Most recently, Pope Francis held a video call with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, in which he said:
We are shepherds of the same Holy People who believe in God, in the Holy Trinity, in the Holy Mother of God: that is why we must unite in the effort to aid peace, to help those who suffer, to seek ways of peace, and to stop the fire.…There was a time, even in our Churches, when people spoke of a holy war or a just war. Today we cannot speak in this manner. A Christian awareness of the importance of peace has developed…Wars are always unjust, since it is the people of God who pay. Our hearts cannot but weep before the children and women killed, along with all the victims of war. War is never the way. The Spirit that unites us asks us as shepherds to help the peoples who suffer from war.”
Diplomacy, of course, can only do so much. As the readings yesterday remind us, those who “trust in flesh” rather than in the Lord are cursed. The hearts of the human beings involved in this unjust invasion are “tortuous” and quite possibly “beyond remedy”…at least from a human standpoint. That is why Pope Francis has announced that he will turn to a more powerful form of intervention. On March 25th, he will consecrate Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary during a service in St. Peter’s Basilica. Papal Almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, will travel to Fatima to carry out the same consecration in union with the Pope. The Catholic bishops of Ukraine and Russia have welcomed this action, and are calling on their people to prepare for this consecration through prayer. The Pope has also invited all the bishops of the world to participate in this consecration.
The consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart was requested by Mary in a vision given to Sister Lucia in 1929. Many such consecrations have been made in the years since, but controversy about whether these consecrations are “valid” has persisted—even though Sister Lucia herself said that Mary’s request had been fulfilled. It is not surprising that these controversies have been resurrected after the Pope’s announcement. Nor is it surprising that some reactionary Catholics are already arguing that the upcoming consecration will be “invalid” and therefore ineffective. Such people seem to see Mary’s request as being something akin to a computer password: get one letter wrong, and you’re stuck; get it wrong three times, and it is “game over”!
Notably, however, such voices appear to be in the minority even among those who tend to be critical of Pope Francis. In an eminently sensible article on the topic for Crisis, Eric Sammons cautions against the kind of magical thinking I referenced above. He then goes on to point out that all the controversies and conspiracy theories shouldn’t obscure the true core of the matter:
Whether the 1984 Consecration fulfilled Our Lady’s request or not, we can be sure that the upcoming Consecration is a good thing. Why? Because it will focus our prayers on an area of the globe that desperately needs it. No matter what one thinks of the controversies surrounding Fatima, Our Lord and Our Lady will hear the cry of so many Catholics for Russia and Ukraine and have mercy on those people.
The status of the Consecration is ultimately not vital to our salvation. We are obliged to follow and accept all public revelation, which means we must live a sacramental and prayerful life, follow the Church’s teachings on faith and morals, and care for the poor and needy. Surely that’s what Our Lady requests more than anything.
The surprising level of unity and positivity about the consecration is very good news, and we need good news right now. Amid the increasing darkness of our 21st century, the story of the Flood does indeed seem more relevant than ever. In fact, our beautiful yet fragile planet hurtling through space can easily be compared to the Ark that sheltered the future of humanity. The mounting waters of chaos unleashed by human sin threaten to overwhelm it. On every side, we see violence, confusion, and division. It is easy to succumb to hopelessness in the face of human evil. But as Pope Francis has so often reminded us, our God is a God of surprises. We should never limit his power to intervene and bring good out of evil. Not only is he a God of surprises, but he calls us to participate in his plan, to be surprised at the results of our own actions. In Let Us Dream, Pope Francis tells us that the world was not handed to us “all wrapped up and sealed”. In cooperation with God, we have true agency. God is offering us yet again a choice between the path of blessing and the path of curse. Under the guidance of Pope Francis, let us invoke the intercession of the Mother of God. Let us truly believe that God will work miracles of peace and healing if we turn to him with all our hearts. (cf Jer 29:10-14)
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