In the novel, Heroes, author Robert Cormier has a Catholic nun say to the main character that praying for people you love is easy but praying for one’s enemies is the true test of moral character and religious faith. As I have tried to evolve through stages of acceptance, forgiveness, and healing in my personal life, I have always found the nun’s admonition especially relevant and meaningful.
But thinking about Vladimir Putin and the senseless, merciless violence he is inflicting upon the Ukrainian people, I confess that I cannot contemplate much less engage in praying for him. He seems to me the definition of how a person unencumbered by conscience or soul views the world, treats his fellow human beings, and pursues an irrational and indefensible quest for power and control. I don’t know if his brand of evil is further corrupted by madness, but being willing to destroy what you covet seems to me the opposite of sanity.
One of Pablo Neruda’s poems in The Book of Questions presents possible ways Hitler could be punished in Hell by using his victims’ fumes, ashes, blood, and teeth. As a Catholic, I understand that retribution is not mine to impose. But I can’t resist thinking that Putin, an iteration of Hitler, deserves all the retribution the universe can dispense to him. Pablo Neruda has provided a good starting point for implementing punishment.
I’m trying to restore some emotional equilibrium by concentrating less on Putin and more on the brave and resilient Ukrainian people. Our world desperately needs Ukraine to remain a sovereign nation; our world needs the inspiration and patriotism that the Ukrainian people are exemplifying with such profound and fearless grace, sacrifice, and courage. Our world needs the principled leadership of Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Civilized countries have much to learn from Ukraine. Seventy-six year old Ukrainian women are arming themselves with kitchen knives to defend their families, communities, and homeland against Putin’s soldiers and armaments. I pray that we will honor and help the people of Ukraine by invigorating our efforts to unite the world in direct opposition to Putin’s willingness to commit unspeakable atrocities. Condemnation is not enough; empathy is not enough. If Ukrainian men are willing to use their bodies to block Russian tanks, surely the civilized world can find more decisive and consequential ways to stop Putin’s naked aggression.