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When you’re at war, you seek the Sacraments

Patriarch Sviatoslav distributes Communion


John Burger - published on 03/04/24

“Without the sacrament of Eucharist and without the sacrament of penance, we would not survive,” says the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

This is the third part of a series. Read the first two parts here and here.

In the United States, there’s been an effort to foster greater belief in and love of the Eucharist. The nation’s bishops, responding to news that diminishing numbers of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, have been leading a Eucharistic Revival, which will culminate this summer in a National Eucharistic Congress.

During Lent, Catholics are encouraged to avail themselves of the Sacraments more often than usual – perhaps to attend Mass daily and receive the Eucharist, and to make a good confession.

For the past two years, many Christians in Ukraine have not needed a prompt from their pastors to live more sacramental lives. According to His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head and father of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the war there has motivated many people to spontaneously seek out the Lord in the sacraments.

“Without the sacrament of Eucharist and without the sacrament of penance, we would not survive,” His Beatitude said in a recent interview with Aleteia. “And there is some sort of conversion in Ukraine, asking for the meaning of our suffering, which we can rediscover by hearing God’s Word – Holy Scripture, the Holy Gospel – but also there is a conversion among so many people because they are seeking the sacraments of the Church. So many baptisms of people who never went to church. So many confessions – very touching confessions – which really converted the life of the people.”

There’s no guarantee, of course, that the sacraments will always be there when we’re looking for them. American Catholics have begun to find that to be the case. With fewer vocations to the priesthood and with parish closings and consolidations in recent decades, Mass might not be available as often, and one might have to wait until a priest is available to hear confessions.

In Ukraine, older Catholics will remember a time under the Soviet Union when their Church was illegal, and if they wanted to receive the sacraments, they would have to either attend an open Orthodox church or seek out a secret liturgy in the underground Catholic Church. Today, in areas of Ukraine that Russia has occupied, there are reminders of that time of persecution: Some Catholic churches are being boarded up and their priests arrested or exiled. 

The sacrament of presence

In times of difficulty, some people in the Church speak of a “ministry of presence,” or even a “sacrament of presence.” This would be more of a metaphorical way of speaking of “sacraments,” since Jesus did not institute an eighth sacrament called “Presence.”

But if the sacraments are physical channels to bring God’s grace into the world, Christians are also called to be conduits of God’s love and mercy to others. If nothing else, we can at least be present to one another. Oftentimes that comes at a price. There are many demands on our time in this busy world, but if someone in need presents himself to us, can we justly say “I’m too busy?”

Plus, we might not have anything in the way of material goods to give to that person, but what we do have – our time and complete attention – can be worth far more.

“It is not enough to sit in your house and to pray,” His Beatitude Sviatoslav told Aleteia. “I can witness how important is the very presence of the priests and of the bishops among the suffering people. I would call this the sacrament of presence. Even if you cannot do too much, you cannot even explain why this is happening right now, even if you have empty hands, it is important to be there, to be present. And this encounter reveals something which we bring inside of our hearts.”

For a Christian, underlying this must be the three theological virtues. As His Beatitude explains, this reality has manifested itself quite clearly in the midst of war:

“Hope comes only as a consequence of our faith. Only those who believe in God have hope. Hope is not a simple illusion or expectation. Hope is not a simple sentiment. Hope is a theological virtue which comes out of faith.

“And hope grows and can be fulfilled in the third important Christian virtue, which is love. Hope always brings us to love. And love is the biggest power which can transform and heal your wounds. Perhaps if you will only collect the pain and wounds and the other things in your heart with no transformation of this energy into the good deeds of love, charity, solidarity, this energy will blow up inside of you.

“But if you transform this psychological trauma into positive activity, helping others, you will help yourself.”

Watch the whole Aleteia interview with His Beatitude Sviatoslav


Next: Forgiveness

Read the first two parts here (on prayer as a survival mechanism) and here (on sharing words of hope).

ConfessionEucharistSacramentsSpiritual LifeUkraine
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