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Andriy ZelinskyyMarch 29, 2024
A church destroyed by a Russian attack on the village of Bohorodychne in Ukraine's Donetsk region is pictured Feb. 13, 2024. (OSV News photo/Vladyslav Musiienko, Reuters)

Editor’s note: The following text has been edited for clarity. You can hear the Rev. Andriy Zelinskyy give the original homily—and share how he finds and preaches hope in a time of war—in our Good Friday episode of “Preach: The Catholic Homilies Podcast,” hosted by Ricardo da Silva, S.J.

I come from a country severely afflicted by war. Millions of refugees and internally displaced people. Thousands killed, lost in action and in Russian prisons. Families without fathers, fathers without families; rivers of children’s tears—with an unknown today and an uncertain tomorrow.

Everything was so clear yesterday. Nothing remains the same today, and nobody is sure what the next day will look like. The people, though, are still strong enough.

What is injured is our humanity. On the battlefield, I learned that humanity does have edges, lines beyond which, it seems, it ceases being human.

Listen to this homily by Andriy Zelinskyy's on “Preach: The Catholic Homilies Podcast”

The first edge I discovered is the unprovoked violence of an aggressor. Violence is always brutal. But the unprovoked kind—that is, violence for no reason—is brutally absurd. Absurdity doesn’t offer answers. Pain is not interested in your name, in your personality; it seeks only to disfigure the shape of your personal existence.

I saw something I could neither believe nor understand: innocent civilians murdered by foreign troops in their own houses—homes they had been building their whole lives; children watching their moms being raped; and the elderly tying themselves to the radiator at night to keep themselves from collapsing from exhaustion, as there was no space for them to lie down in the cramped basement of Yahidne, a small Ukrainian village, where they were forcibly confined for a month.

You look at all this thinking: “How can a human being—today, in the 21st century—do so much violence to another human being?”

All this seems to point to a certain line in our behavior beyond which there is something we have not yet discovered in our human nature—even after centuries of suffering.

The second edge of humanity is better seen from within one’s own personal suffering. When the whole world suddenly disappears from view—sometimes in one single moment, in a glimpse—you lose your ground, lacking the courage to take another step. From within the trenches, the ruins of the destroyed house you once lived in for years, a hospital ward, your battle with cancer, loneliness, pain, and loss of purpose, you lose the ability to see the sunshine and the blue sky above.

Or you simply can’t see. Reduced to pain and suffering, you can’t live out the fullness of your human freedom and dignity. You can’t be yourself. Now, you must suffer, and your sufferings can draw an edge to your humanity.

We notice the third edge of humanity from a distance; when your indifference distances you from the real pain of another. For vulnerability is an undeniable mark of being truly human. Our wounded humanity can never be far away; we all share in the same human nature. If we are injured in one place, we can certainly bleed elsewhere if not taken care of in due time. Illusions don’t last long; they easily crumble.You can’t simplify reality to avoid noticing the disturbing images of someone else’s suffering. A simplified mind can’t find answers to complex problems, can’t hide. There’s no ocean so wide that it can separate you completely from a wounded humanity, no matter where the scar is. Indifference trims our human dignity.

Well, this is our world today: torn to pieces and shred by missiles, tanks and drones, pierced by indifference, scourged by a sense of loneliness for so many.

This is our humanity—our common humanity—today: nailed to the harsh reality of wars and unjustified violence, confined by uncertainties of the present moment.

Is this the humanity that is the edge of my existence? If this is the edge, there must be nothing beyond: no future, no life. What could be the sense of these thousands of lost lives, of the rivers of children’s tears, of the tons of broken dreams, of all the affliction and loneliness in this world?

The cross of Christ, too, marks the edges of humanity, but it doesn’t leave us without hope. Jesus was there too—at the edge, unprovoked and undeserved cruelty from all those who despised, envied, hated or feared him. Their voice was strong and clear: “Crucify him!”

Unbearable suffering and annoying pain of loneliness within his body and his heart. Crushed, annihilated, “a man of suffering… from whom people hide their faces.” Satisfied with whispers of those observing from a distance: Had not he saved others? Remember the words? How come he can’t step down from the cross now?

Well, true hope requires a sincere touch on reality—ugly and disfigured as it may look at times, painful and repulsive. But reality is always greater than what our sight can reach. There must be something beyond those lines that appear to us as edges, the edges right in front of our eyes. Or better said, there must be somebody beyond those lines.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius Loyola proposes a very special kind of prayer. Standing in front of the cross and gazing at Jesus crucified, Ignatius invites us to talk to Jesus “as a friend talks to a friend.” Right there, at the edge of humanity, the rejected, humiliated, abandoned, crucified Messiah. Talk to him. Today is the day! Do not be afraid to ask him: “Jesus, my Lord, how come you’re once again nailed to a cross? How, once again, can a human being be so cruel? How can a human being be exposed to so much suffering, even still today? How come a human being can be so indifferent today? How come I…” Maybe it’s better to say: “What have I done at the edge of humanity?... And what can I actually do?”

You can do what Jesus did. Remember, he loved—honestly and to the very end. And it was this love that opened the door to a new day in our human history. And it can still do it; when and if you, and I, and we, don’t stop loving—like he did. In Jesus, love is stronger than death; not only for him, but for me and for you too.

One of the most striking icons in Byzantine sacred art that really shocked me a long time ago was the icon of the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior, with an inscription right above his thorn-crowned head saying: “King of Glory.” Notice, it is not on the icon of the Resurrection, but here, above the cross. Here is our King, and here’s his glory—simple, silent, pierced, nailed glory of our naked God at the edge of humanity.

But he is not simply dying there. He is dying there for me and for you. And this changes everything! Right there at the cross, in Jesus, our humanity doesn’t fall beyond its edges. Even there, even then, he continues to love. And even in that dense darkness—or loneliness—that he experiences as a human being, he doesn’t let himself forget that he is loved too: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Talk to Jesus. Today is the day. It is here that a living hope takes its roots—from the tomb sealed with a heavy stone. For even there, at the edge of humanity, he continued to love. He never stopped. He never will. Maybe you shouldn’t either. This is solid ground for our hope in the time of uncertainties here, today, at the edge of humanity.

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