In this column two years ago, I wrote: “I’m not sure I ever visualised anything like this happening.” It was at the beginning of the outbreak of Covid and the front page that day quoted then taoiseach Leo Varadkar, with the two words “Stay home” blazoned in red. In this column last month I wrote: “The war that I am seeing on television every evening and reading about in the newspapers is actually beyond my sense of understanding.”
According to the World Health Organisation, 15 million people have died from Covid. Thousands have been killed in the war in Ukraine. I saw a woman interviewed on television saying that she had cut her hair short hoping to make herself less attractive so that she might avoid being raped by a Russian soldier. That's where we are in this indescribable barbarism in Ukraine. An economics expert has said it will cost €400 billion to reconstruct Ukraine. Multiples of such incomprehensible sums of money cannot bring back to life the thousands who have been killed.
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby addressed this terrible war. Pope Francis calls this Easter the "Easter of War" and of course he is referring to other war hotspots around the world. Justin Welby pleads with the world never to return to the madness of Bismarck, who spoke about "blood and iron". In 2006 when the then Pope Benedict walked through the gates of Auschwitz he said: "Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate this?"
Covid and war have sent us reeling, as has the devastation of climate change. We were living in a semi-security that kept prompting us to believe that we were the masters of the universe.
Benedict, with all the failings of being human, asked the question of God in a rhetorical sense, as do many of the Psalmists. Maybe today with the horror of Ukraine, there are those who will point to the war as proof that there is no God. They will argue that no God could allow this to happen. But what if I say, here we are, with all our mastery, our control, our intelligence, our sophistication and we do this to one another. Maybe after all we are anything but the masters of the universe.
I recall my late father saying to me that once weapons are produced, they will be used. And here we are doing just that. All those sparkling weapons of war, which cost billions, being used to kill, destroy and annihilate.
Tomorrow’s Gospel (John 20: 19-31) has two powerful images that help me in these dark days. At least they point to the never-ending inadequacy of the human condition.
In the days immediately after the Resurrection what do the disciples do? They close the doors because they were afraid of the Jews. Closing doors never works. Jesus comes among them and offers them peace. “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” He goes on to tell them to “receive the Holy Spirit”.
And in the concluding lines of the Gospel, St John tells the reader that some of the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus are recorded: “So that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.”
Some lines in Shakespeare’s Hamlet come to mind in the midst of total turmoil: “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Don’t we need to remember that after all we are not the masters of the universe? To spend time and thought concentrating on God, the possibility of a God, would do us all some good. May we pray to God that those who are unleashing such violence on the world will stop. Help us, God. The peace that Jesus brings to his disciples is a much-cherished peace that is also available to you and me, to the people of Ukraine, to those who suffer violence and hatred around the world.
On Easter Sunday Pope Francis said: “We proclaim the resurrection of Christ when his light illuminates the dark moments of our existence.” And this is a dark moment. But the light of Christ overcomes the darkness.