Sunday, April 20, 2014

Celebrating in Absolute!

Easter Sunday – 20 April 2014 

Cathedral of St. Alexander, Kyiv, Ukraine

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Haec dies quam fecit Dominus; exultemus et laetemur in ea.
Col. 3 :1-4       1 Cor. 5 :6b-8
Jn. 20 :1-9

          Is our everyday where it ought to be such that we know how to celebrate the feast? Easter is here! Alleluia! I wish each and everyone here present and, please, carry the message to all at home: Christ is Risen! Yes, He is truly Risen!
          Is our everyday where it ought to be such that we know how to celebrate the feast? When we think about today’s Gospel account of the panic which descended upon the women who went early in the morning to the tomb of Jesus, on the first day of the week, and found the stone rolled away and His Body gone, the panic of Simon Peter and of the disciple Jesus loved, running to the tomb, what are we to say? We can say that Easter each year does in a sense catch us by surprise as well.
          Jesus had prophesied His sorrowful passion, His death upon the Cross and His glorious Resurrection, but confronted with the stone removed from the tomb, the disciples were confounded. All our lives long, we have been taught in these matters of faith as well, yet how can we say that Easter morning finds us better prepared than they were: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” Because in our case it is not the first time, we need to phrase the thing a bit differently, that is, this challenge to us for our lack of faith: Is our everyday where it ought to be such that we know how to celebrate the feast?
          In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, by the grace he received on Pentecost, Peter lays it all out for the crowds: “You know what has happened… the baptism, the anointing with power to heal and drive out devils, …that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” Did Easter catch you by surprise? Why were you not prepared? What did or did not change in your life this Lent?
          Not to worry though! The greatest thing about Easter joy is that we don’t, we should not regret if it does take us by surprise. The mystery is indeed too great and should overwhelm us, no matter how much penance we have done, no matter how much we have done to reform our lives.
          At least since last November, through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, right up through these high, holy days to Easter today, we here in Ukraine, from one vantage point or another, have been living life close up and intense, we are witnesses to violence, to cruel betrayal, and on the other hand, to great piety and faith, to unflagging courage and dedication, to great service and deep respect for the human person.  Is our everyday where it ought to be such that we know how to celebrate the feast? For lots of Ukrainians, both by birth and by adoption, I would say undoubtedly yes, simply by virtue of your living this period of trial, which sadly does not seem to know how to respect the feast.
          The Feast of Easter is greater than us and than our experience. The Scriptures teach us that very truth, by recounting the bewildered panic of those who came to Christ’s now empty tomb early of that Sunday, that first Easter Sunday morning. The mystery, the glory of the Resurrection of the Son of Man is beyond our everyday, way beyond the best and worst which life has to offer us.
          Despite two thousand years of celebrating Jesus’ victory over sin and death, practically everywhere on earth, today’s feast still comes as a surprise even to many who at least nominally consider themselves Catholic or Christian. Besides coming to us as a surprise, I wish the feast would provoke the same panic as it did in the disciples on that first Easter Sunday early in the morning. I truly wish we could bring people beyond ignorance and indifference to a genuine encounter with Christ, the Lord of Life. Death today is still too easily embraced. Our lives should be a constant celebration of life restored, of mankind’s reconciliation with God now and for all eternity.
Is our everyday where it ought to be such that we know how to celebrate the feast? Easter is here! Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Yes, He is truly Risen!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sequel to 3 Pillars of Diplomacy

There are lots of nice thoughts in this video of Fr. Barron's on the Meaning of Easter, but what he says about the nature of Christ's victory later in the video has a singular importance for me. He says in effect that contrary to the wisdom of this world, superior strength, greater violence cannot ultimately win the victory over perpetrators of evil in our world; the victory belongs to Christ alone in the glory of His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

In a piece I wrote at the end of March, I intimated that in the world of diplomacy today where most interlocutors refuse to be bound by the natural law and tend even to ignore that body of customary law which we call international law, the third pillar, deterrence, whether armed or economic, looms bigger than it should, no longer as ultima ratio but as sine qua non for those who would practice diplomacy.

You can argue, if you wish, that the world has never been without its "bad boys", but the point is that the world has probably never believed less than today that at some point the Terrible Judge will take His seat upon the Throne and judge both the living and the dead. With all three pillars in place, I think one can argue for the Holy See's role in the diplomatic world, not only for cultivating relations of a positive nature among powers on an ordinary, everyday basis, but also calling to order, by appealing to the principles of the first two pillars in times of crisis. Without those first two, however, what is the point of jumping into the snake-pit without means of defense? Those who can must indeed stand up for the rights of others in this our world without justice. Those who can must indeed insist that within the community of nations and powers pacts are to be respected and held sacred. More than ever before, for the sake of justice, deterrence is a solemn obligation. It does not stem from such, however, that the Pope needs to raise an army or gather arms; the Church's role in identification with the Bridegroom, Christ, is another.

Such thoughts loom all the larger on this Good Friday, kneeling at the foot of Jesus' Cross, confessing that ultimate victory for me and for our world is in Him and in His Victory achieved through succumbing to violence and embracing death through crucifixion.

It is hard to have confidence in the world's diplomacy, deprived as it is of that sense of fear and trembling for our accountability before the judgment seat of God. What sort of truth or justice can there be in a world which ignores the Creator, Redeemer and Judge of mankind? We need to keep reminding and storming the doors of hardened hearts and heads, in hopes they will finally soften up and open wide for the King of Glory!

Behold the Wood of the Cross on which hung the Savior of the World!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why did Jesus cry at Lazarus' Grave?

In the Preface for this Sunday, we read:
"For as true man he wept for Lazarus his friend and as eternal God raised him from the tomb, just as, taking pity on the human race, he leads us by sacred mysteries to new life."
That is certainly our traditional understanding and the Church's teaching, but it doesn't keep the little boy in me from insisting as to why Jesus cried at Lazarus's grave. When you are a child you ask why, "...but with His foreknowledge how could Jesus weep?" When you get older, you weep at the drop of a hat and don't ask such questions any more.

As we read in the Gospel for today, Jesus already knew what was and what He was going to do before setting out for Bethany. So then why did He cry? Other folks had their explanations and their mixed emotions, all of them confounded by His "Lazarus, come forth!"

For me, this Gospel and the therein contained great mystery bespeaks Christ's immediacy, His closeness and His will to save in our regard. The Catechism explains that eternal life starts with Baptism and goes on and on. Right now, too often, the "other folks" have the upper hand and by their words place bounds which constrain and leave without hope. The present ambiance is too much conditioned by the here and now. They (and we too if we fall into this sin) truly deserve to be confounded by Christ in our midst.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead, as well as restoring her dead son alive to the widow of Nain were, yes, miracles, but they were clearly God's response to human tears. Does it take little or much to move Him? I guess you have to be a friend of God to know.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Somebody's Brave New World

Here's a frightening little piece on what is abroad in the world of thought on international relations in the world today. 

"Vladimir Putin’s statements and actions concerning Crimea and Ukraine are not adhoc responses but rather represent a new “’Putin doctrine’” for Russian action in foreign affairs, a doctrine that dispenses with many of the most fundamental principles on which the international system has operated, according to Vladimir Ryzhkov.

In a Ekho Moskvy blogpost yesterday, the liberal historian, politician and commentator identifies seven parts of this new doctrine and discusses the way in which Putin and his regime plan to extend its application from Crimea and Ukraine to Moscow’s relations with the rest of the world ("

In a sense, Ryzhkov is kidding only himself in presenting a new "doctrine" of any kind in a world as pragmatic and relativist as ours. Perhaps intellectual honestly might have dictated his admitting that there is nothing here which isn't same old, same old. 

Lord, have mercy on us and on the whole world!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Forward, Fall Back

It just dawned on me this morning: among the things I truly miss about living in the tropics is the constancy of time. Near the Equator there is no "spring forward, fall back", no attempts to save daylight. Continental Europe went daylight or legal time in this morning's wee hours. It's not so much the loss or gain of an hour which troubles me, as a kind of wrenching incertitude which comes upon me for a few hours either side of this twice annual event. Although losing an hour in the spring is far worse, the gain in the fall is no real compensation. It doesn't assuage my uncertainty in the least.

Some might say that we depend too much on time pieces; some would just say I am exaggerating. For those out there, however, who feel like me, accept my expression of solidarity. I won't shout "Down with time changes!" but I will note for myself that experience tends to teach that what was proffered as an economy measure with all sorts of benefits is in point of fact a deception or simply razzmatazz.

Now I now that the people who arbitrarily imposed this fiasco are most long dead and I do not wish them Purgatory for the suffering they caused others, but it certainly gives one pause to think about the relative merit of all sorts of other changes in our world. A great uncle of mine, long passed to his eternal reward, was a man of great personal discipline who passionately loved life and celebrated all he had seen and experienced over the course of his years. He would sum it up for us children, recounting how as a child he watched early South Dakota settlers from Northern Europe drain marshland for farming with the help of teams of plow horses and whose same eyes watched the TV reports of the first moon landing. We have since learned that perhaps draining those marshes was a bigger mistake than sending a man to the moon, but in either case not much more than distractions from what is truly essential to life.

Would the world be better if our leaders made reparation for all the harm done through unnecessary change? I don't know. Bitter Lake in Miner County is still that after a hundred years; alkali got the upper hand and marsh has not returned. It must be said that making reparation for past harm, intentional or unintentional, in and of itself would be a change too; the cycle could just very well repeat itself. However, I cannot help but think that a little recovery or restoration might not be all bad and may even bring healing. Turning the clocks back is no less wrenching than pushing them forward; both stress the gears of the timepiece.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Three Pillars of Diplomacy

di·plo·ma·cy \də-ˈplō-mə-sē\
: the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries
: skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings [Merriam-Webster's online dictionary]

Someone by the name of Dmitri Tymchuk, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting, writes regularly on Facebook about the crisis in Ukraine. In his summary review of 27 March, his list of the pluses and minuses of the day, this was his first point in the plus column:

"Good news:
1. The Resolution of the UN itself. We are supported by 100 countries. The territorial integrity of Ukraine is supported by all the civilized world. Only Russia and few of the world’s outcasts need a “referendum” at gunpoint and annexation of someone else’s territories.
We have yet to find out what to do with this resolution – it is purely consultative. The Ukrainian Ministry of International Affairs has stated that it can take other, more concrete steps within the framework of the international mechanisms based on this resolution. We will see.
In any case, we thank our diplomats. They are great."

One can understand his irony and frustration in the face of foreign aggression. I suppose, if we give the dictionary its due, crises really don't even fit the definition of diplomacy; diplomacy, through resident ambassadors, is meant to foster, maintain and strengthen the good relations already existing. The work of diplomacy is for the most part painstaking and painstakingly slow; it is at its best relational and bent on keeping open lines of communication between parties. Diplomacy, as such, is perceived as ephemeral and ends up being measured by rare or occasional results: treaties, pacts, troop withdrawals and in times of crisis the establishment or reestablishment of normal lines of contact between parties with strained or severed relations.

Nevertheless, a peacetime only definition of diplomacy would be too restrictive; crisis management is a part of what we mean by diplomacy. Before the age of rapid communications and travel, the fine art of diplomacy was principally the provenance of ambassadors; today it seems as though nothing extraordinary gets done until people of ministerial rank get into the picture and start shuttling around the globe. At one point in the Maidan crisis here in Kyiv, we had three European foreign ministers up all night with President Yanukovich and his staff: top level, seemingly, or not at all. In a sense, I suppose, it is all theater which could not be accomplished without the ambassadors and supporting staff working behind the scenes. I think one could easily argue that traditional residential ambassadors are a key component to the whole equation, even if our work is not all that factor-able.

This reference to the work of diplomacy, especially against the background of crisis management, points out something which for me as a Catholic is troubling. Is diplomacy meant to be little more than socializing to keep channels of communication open just in case? Or is it an exercise in futility based on my best efforts to seek accord and argue my point, to communicate in the best sense of the word? By saying that, am I denying an essential component of the diplomatic equation, namely that aspect of diplomacy which over the course of history has indeed always carried the day, namely the convincing argument of deterrence through the menace or application of force? If asked to give a lecture in a diplomatic academy on the pillars of secular diplomacy, I'd almost have to exclude Vatican diplomacy as a model, in that cordiality is not quantifiable. As essential components of secular diplomacy, in good times and in bad, I would name three: 1) respect for the natural law; 2) a firm commitment to uphold international law; 3) the capability of using deterrence through force (not necessarily military, but also economic), to be exercised when all else fails to defend the common good and human rights and dignity. What is meant on a bilateral level by recourse to this third pillar is plain enough and multilaterally (as in the UN) the parties have to be willing to share common political stances having, if need be, a coercive effect on the outlaw, who refuses to be bound by the commonly held values of the international community or that body of customary law which governs the intercourse between nations and powers.

Up until 1870, it would not be hard to find instances where the Holy See had recourse to the third pillar of diplomacy and beyond threat actually did battle to protect its interests, always in the defense of the values enshrined in the other two pillars. Today, and for a very long time, despite the fact that a billion Catholics throughout the world would have recourse to the Holy Father as their leader, this does not mean that he could either raise an army or invite us to boycott, ostracize or otherwise tangibly penalize a misbehaving country or its ruler. This situation has led in recent years to calls for the Holy See to withdraw from the arena of secular diplomacy. I can remember somebody's lecture in the diplomatic academy in Rome even conceding this point, but urging caution simply because the present system facilitates the principal work of nuncios in the service of the Pope as guarantor of the unity of Christ's Church. It is a pragmatic argument which holds especially since the community of nations does not seem troubled by the presence of the Holy See in this arena, at least as far as bilateral relations go.

Time and again here in Ukraine, people ask me for an authoritative intervention of the Holy Father which goes beyond the assurance of his prayers and his calls that people reopen the lines of communication. I don't think they are asking out of the kind of frustration which Dmitri registered over the results coming out of the UN. I guess we all wish that right reason and principle would play a bigger part in world politics. I guess what I am saying is that there are indeed three pillars to diplomacy and that in many cases justice and truth demand recourse to that third pillar also in defense of those who by reason of international accord or circumstance find themselves dependent upon others to deter the aggressor.

Diplomacy is not an a priori; it is a construct which has served with slight modifications over the course of centuries to foster harmony among peoples and nations by binding sovereigns and the constituted leaders of the same closer together in accountability to each other. Over the course of nigh unto thirty years personal experience with applied diplomacy I have noted a progressive loosening of the institutional bonds which held together the corps of ambassadors in a given capital city; diplomacy is indeed changing. Where we might be headed is not mine to prognosticate. The relativism which afflicts much of society has certainly undermined the first pillar of diplomacy and many experts scoff at the notion that international law can be considered binding. Maybe the diplomats of the Holy See are there to shore up confidence in the first two pillars such that there might be, please, God, less need for recourse to that third one.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What is it about Vatican diplomacy which is non-negotiable?

This last Monday's MondayVatican got me thinking about the fine art of diplomacy in the light of the world crisis whose "ground zero" just can't be all that far from my front door. Whenever issues related to diplomacy come up in discussions about Vatican reform, I start thinking about my job and my experience in general of diplomacy and how it works over the years which for me will soon count thirty. My colleagues from the European Union here in Kyiv have been working long hours since well before the start of the Maidan crisis here in Kyiv. For the rest of us, we have spent lots of time not involved but observing and informing the authorities which sent us here to Ukraine. As such, that is at it should be. I suppose crisis diplomacy must somehow beg the question concerning how diplomacy should be carried out under normal circumstances and for me whether the Holy See has a part to play in this world, often romanticized and highly touted for whatever reason. Why is it or is it really that nobody in the world seems to want to examine or question the world's diplomatic establishment?

It is not that I question Andrea Gagliarducci's motives, but in his weekly column his zeal for other reform issues puzzles me, as does his mention of Vatican diplomacy for the umpteenth week running claiming that the Holy Father has no intention either to retool, modify, reform or overhaul the Holy See's diplomatic apparatus. That leads me to suspect that Andrea thinks that indeed the Holy Father should look more closely, that what some refer to as "the world's first diplomacy" should indeed be on the negotiating table or the chopping block, depending on your preferred imagery.

Far be it from me to force Gagliarducci's own words or in the midst of what he sees as a flurry of activity to reform everywhere else in the Roman Curia but  in matters of diplomacy, but I can't help but think he'd like some answers as to why the Holy See's diplomatic sector might be non-negotiable in terms of the matters in which the cardinals demanded change before proceeding to the election of Pope Francis a year ago. Let me say very clearly that the right kind of reform of the Vatican's diplomacy might actually be a very good thing not only for the Church but for the secular world as well.

Way back last summer an ambassador friend I knew well from Trinidad, now stationed in a neighboring country, came to lunch with his dear wife and his colleague stationed here in Kyiv, whom I also esteem very highly. At some point the conversation turned to shop talk and my friends explained that one of them practices hard diplomacy and the other soft. Not being into the jargon, I asked an explanation, which I have never checked in Wikipedia but believe to be accurate and representative of the general approach to diplomacy in our world today on the part of developed countries. An ambassador who practices hard diplomacy on his country's behalf is most certainly involved in matters of trade and the balance of trade between the sending and receiving countries. Soft diplomacy most often centers around cultural exchanges: you bring in a dance troupe, an orchestra, maybe just a virtuoso or a traveling photography exhibit; you spend time promoting your country's language abroad. Neither one seems classic to me; in fact, both seem inappropriate of a country's representative extraordinary and plenipotentiary. Why not stop with commercial and cultural attache's or open a cultural center? This is one of the reasons why some countries are closing embassies and opening consulates headed by honorary consuls, who pay their own way for their own purposes, usually having to do with commerce and trade.

What kind of diplomacy do I practice, hard or soft? Neither, you might say, and as such I am the odd man out all around. The Holy See practices a classic diplomacy as old as the institution of permanent embassies itself and not many countries are interested in practicing back. The only real exception, in terms of active and demanding bilateral relationships would have to be Germany, because of something they call Staatskirchenrecht, a highly developed law branch regulating the place of religious bodies in society and foreseeing the Holy See as a negotiating partner in developing this law as it regards Catholics through the elaboration and regular amendment of concordats and lesser accords on specific issues like universities and theological faculties. Apart from Germany, it would be fair to say that Apostolic Nuncios have little to do when it comes to "high level" diplomacy. I am not complaining; I am stating a fact.

Andrea might well ask what then is the point? Over the course of the Holy See's diplomatic activity, even more recently in negotiations between Argentina and Chile, the Holy See has been a mediator and a peacemaker, but not everyone in our service is qualified for such a task nor can we keep nearly 150 Nuncios covering 180 countries, with supporting staff, out there in the field on a wing and a prayer. If reforming moves toward more subsidiarity in the Church are implemented and our key role in the process of selecting bishops is entrusted to others, what then?

Personally, I firmly believe that Nuncios have a profound role to play in the exercise of the Petrine ministry, the Pope's mandate from Christ Himself as successor of St. Peter, "to strengthen the brethren". I don't doubt for a minute that the group of eight Cardinals has not already discussed every aspect of the Holy Father's ministry which is willed to bind us all together in charity. It could very well be that there have not been any leaks on the topic and that Andrea and others will be pleasantly surprised when the diplomacy reform sees the light of day.

Perhaps all I want to say to Andrea and others who follow efforts to respond to the pre-conclave demands of the world's cardinals is that while faith and morals, the Creed and the Commandments, are non-negotiable, it is hard to fathom why Vatican diplomacy shouldn't be on the table.