Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration

УКРАЇНСЬКA КАТОЛИЦЬКA ЦЕРКВА ПРЕОБРАЖЕННЯ ГОСПОДНЬОГО


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Through our solidarity with each other we make present the Risen Christ.

“At times, by over-emphasizing our efforts to do good works, we have created an ideal of holiness excessively based on ourselves, our personal heroics, our capacity for renunciation, our readiness for self-sacrifice to achieve a reward… We have turned holiness into an unattainable goal. We have separated it from everyday life, instead of looking for it and embracing it in our daily routines, in the dust of the streets, in the trials of real life… Being disciples of Jesus and advancing on the path of holiness means first and foremost letting ourselves be transfigured by the power of God’s love. Let us never forget the primacy of God over self, of the Spirit over the flesh, of grace over works. For we at times give more importance to self, flesh and works.”            Pope Francis

  With Ascension Thursday, the Easter cycle ends. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and our greeting of awe that “Christ is Risen” turns to praise: “Glory to Jesus Christ”! Perhaps now, because of russia’s invasion, we may hear “Glory to Ukraine” more often than to Jesus. And the two greetings are related.

  Imagine the longing the disciples would have felt after seeing their Risen Lord leave. The fear, and emptiness would only be assuaged by staying within their community, with their loved ones. Only once they are filled with the Holy Spirit—God’s Spirit—can they carry Christ’s love and joy into the world. Only with the Spirit can they live as Jesus taught, see others as He saw them. Only with the Spirit could they recognize Him in each other and no longer mourn, but rather rejoice in what they had from Him. Thus, they were able to spread His Spirit and grow in strength and faith just as their community grew as well. “Glory to Jesus Christ”!

  Today, we, as a Ukrainian Catholic community, support each other in growing in the strength of God’s love. Our Christian greeting: Glory to Jesus Christ reminds us of our commitment to each other and the joy and gratitude that flow from belonging, connection, support. “Glory to Ukraine” with its response Glory to our (courageous) heroes, in the same way connects us to each other and to the sacrifice of countless people who lost their lives in order for us to grow in our Ukrainian community. Through our solidarity with each other we make present the Risen Christ. Through Christ we grow in love for others, keeping the memory of our “heroes” alive in us, giving us the courage to reach out to each other—here in our church community—and beyond, seeing everyone as our sisters and brothers whether they are in KW or Ukraine.  

  The Covid pandemic has made it much harder to connect with each other here at our church. But this Sunday, for the first time in 2 years, we are having our Parish General Meeting in person. For a few Sundays we are able to meet after Liturgy for coffee. We can, once again, come together in person to grow in Christ, to grow in Love, and to wash the mud from our eyes, (as we heard in the Gospel last week), to see afresh through the eyes of God. As we reconnect with each other, we glorify not only Christ, but our heroes of Ukraine, looking to them to guide us in selfless service to others, bringing greater justice, love, and peace to our parish and to the world. Slava Isusu Chrystu! Slava Ukraini!


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“He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God”

It strikes me how often in post Resurrection accounts we hear of sight—recognition—understanding—often in unexpected situations. And so, readings in the Easter liturgical cycle echo this astonishing phenomenon of renewed perception: seeing what has been in front of our noses as if for the first time. 

  This Sunday’s Gospel story describes someone who couldn’t see from birth, yet once encountering Christ, gained sight. First he saw Jesus; the man who,

rather than spitting at him or slinging mud at him, as others no doubt often did, instead had him accept this dirt on his face and then wash it away.  This man first saw a good person and in time understood he had seen the Lord. When we look carefully at both readings from John (1 9-38) and Acts (16 16-34), we too might have a “lightbulb moment” where we glimpse the world through the eyes of Christ. I’d call this seeing with our heart. Ultimately, both readings illuminate the radical, unexpected nature of Christ’s teaching, that when recognized, transforms us and our perception of life. Indeed, perhaps the man born blind symbolizes you and me, unable truly to see the world around us without encountering Christ.  

  In the eyes of his society, the blind man was inferior; his lack of sight a divine punishment for sin, whether his own or his family’s. In Christ’s eyes, the despised beggar (like me and you) is a conduit for God. With Christ, the indignity others placed on the blind man is washed away, his human dignity illuminated by the “light of the world”. 

  In Acts, we see a woman slave being exploited by her male owners. Interestingly, her fortune-telling announces the apostles’ mission. A typical view would have applauded free publicity, but Paul “in the name of Christ” silences her prophesying, thereby depriving the slave owners of the profit they made from her predictions. Once again, Christ’s vision turns norms upside down. The “use” of a person exposed and interrupted. When the earthquake strikes open the doors and shackles of the prisoners, we expect Paul and Silas to escape, but they stay in prison, saving the life of their prison guard. Finally, this same guard neither runs nor locks up his prisoners as required. Rather, for the first time in his life through the apostles he meets God, and thus, gains his sight. Evoking Christ’s washing the feet of His disciples’ before eating with them, the jailor washes the wounds of Paul and Silas before bringing them home for a meal: “he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household”. Through the apostles the prison guard sees Christ: his has gained his sight! He and his world are transfigured.

May our vision also be restored. May we know the joy of meeting Christ and seeing through His eyes.

And may others see Him through us.


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Let us offer a prayer for our mothers and all those who have been like mothers for us. May the Lord bless them and keep them close

It has become commonplace for the Sunday of the Myrrh bearing women to evoke the prominence of women in the Gospel mission. And how fitting that this year in North America we celebrate Mother’s Day on this same day. Although it is nice to have specific days of appreciation, it is also ironic that both these illuminations of women appear in contexts that privilege men and persistently devalue the women’s roles that are being celebrated.

  Perhaps the time has come for us, once again, to examine the role of the Myrrh bearers, but this time to hear their call to action. It is critical that we recognize these women in their historical context in order to relate to them today.

  The very presence of women in the Gospel accounts of Jesus alerts us to their significance in Christ’s message. Biblical scholars attest that early Christian communities strove to emulate Christ in their relationships and social structures. Thus, as Paul explains, there was neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor freeman, man nor woman . . .

That Jesus spoke to women as His equals was a radical act, worthy of recording. Therefore, women in Early Christian communities exercised leadership roles alongside their brothers in faith. Eventually, as the Church flourished, Rome sought to destroy the Christians, using them as scapegoats for its neglectful and destructive policies. Christian communities sought acceptance in the mainstream, thereby gradually eroding Christ’s revolutionary equality and inclusivity. Despite women disciples, prophets, martyrs and saints, as the Church entered the mainstream, the role of women in the Church began to mirror its patriarchal society rather than the astonishing equality demonstrated by Christ.

  Today, as we reflect on the Gospel message, we can see how Christian living demands openness. Love is dynamic; it does not stagnate. Therefore, even as Church, we do not act simply because “that’s how it’s always been.” We must always be open to the fresh possibilities of sharing love. This is a choice we make with support and deliberation.

  Females are not biologically programmed to love more than males. Love in humans is nurtured from the womb. Women, having the potential to give birth have developed a social position as nurturers not only of humans, but of all life. We look to the Myrrh bearers and, indeed, to the mother of God as choosing to live God’s love. They have said yes to God, to Christ—despite the danger, fear, and undermining of norms.

Imagine the disciples, men and women, hiding away at Passover—their dear Jesus in the tomb. Imagine the courage it would take to leave the room, knowing that followers of Jesus are at risk of the same treatment He received. They were afraid—as any sensible person would be. Nevertheless, they went to the tomb. They risked their lives to honour the death of their friend in the customary practice of their Tradition. They chose to show their love, more than their fear. These women were the first to know the news of salvation, the first to know the Resurrection, the first to tell the others. Imagine, the fear. Imagine the courage.

  Today, as we honour this event together with mothers in our life, let’s look to the astounding courage of our own mothers who have said “yes” to love, teaching us how to love others, our culture, our Church. Let’s acknowledge the courage of the women of Ukraine, feeding others, caring for others, working to preserve the dignity and integrity of Ukraine and its people. Let’s work to recognize and stop the sexism all around us that devalues women on a daily basis. We look to the Myrrh bearers and all caring women to learn the courage, honesty and generosity of life lived in love.

With gratitude to our mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters whose loving lives bring hope to our world.


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We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

(Teilhard de Chardin)

  How fortunate that Thomas wasn’t hiding out with his fellow apostles, that first day of the Resurrection. A week later, on his return, he hears that Jesus is actually alive after dying, because Mary, the other women, and then the others staying together, had seen and spoken with Him, even

eaten with Him. They believed Christ had risen from the dead because they saw Him with their own eyes. That core group of disciples described their experience to Thomas. It’s no wonder Thomas needed that experience as well. “Hey—I want to see our beloved friend too. I’ll believe my own eyes.”

  We are human beings; we experience life through our physical bodies. We experience God through our physical bodies. When we listen carefully to what has been recorded in the Gospels of the Risen Christ, we see a clear pattern. The disciples have real, tangible interactions with Christ, but He always sends them beyond Himself to others. He tells the women at the tomb to tell the others. He tells those locked in the room to go out and spread the news. He tells Thomas: “Peace. Don’t worry; come see for yourself.” There is no rebuke—only tenderness and understanding.  Thomas’s need is natural and those who hear about his experience will be happy and blessed. They now have the opportunity to see the Truth without needing to verify Christ’s death by touching the mortal wounds. They are you and me.

  But how do we encounter Christ? How do we know God through our human physicality? Christ leaves no doubt that we meet God through each other and all creation. Through the Risen Christ we see the world transfigured in holiness. When we see the world transfigured, we experience Christ. Every Sunday, as we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death, we share the Eucharistic bread that sustains us as the Body of Christ. Christ is tangible through us—His followers. The reading from Acts (as do the Gospels) tells us that Christ is physically present through you and me, when we live in Love, as Jesus did.

  Our Ukrainian custom of having a community Sviachene on the Sunday of Thomas is a perfect echo of the early Church’s experience of the Risen Christ that we hear in today’s readings. Through being together and sharing hospitality, the walls of our doubts, yearning, illness, and sorrow are shattered, and we can come into the peace of Christ’s presence among us. As we meet our brothers and sisters again, or for the first time, at Divine Liturgy and over coffee, let’s feel the Love and Peace of Christ that our togetherness brings.

God works through life, through people, and through physical, tangible,

and material reality to communicate [God’s] healing presence in our lives.” (R. E. Webber)


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CHRIST IS RISEN!

On this Easter morning, let us look again at the lives we have been so generously given and let us let fall away the useless baggage that we carry – old pains, old habits, old ways of seeing and feeling – and let us have the courage to begin again. Life is very short, and we are no sooner here than it is time to depart again, and we should use to the full the time that we still have.

  We don’t realize all the good we can do. A kind, encouraging word or helping hand can bring many a person through dark valleys in their lives. We weren’t put here to make money or to acquire status or reputation. We were sent here to search for the light of Easter in our hearts, and when we find it we are meant to give it away generously.

  May the spirit and light of this Easter morning… bless us all, watch over us and protect us on our journey, open us from the darkness into the light of peace and hope and transfiguration.

John O’Donohue, Irish poet and philosopher


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Love is greater than hate. Love is stronger than death

Another Pussy-willow Sunday. Our Lenten reflections recognized the Divine Liturgy as a renewal of our relationship with God, each other, humanity, creation. We are connected as one body through the Eucharist; we are family. Throughout Lent this year, we, together with most of the Western world, recoil in horror at russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In our interconnection, each prayer and thought filter through the unfathomable pain of our sisters and brothers in our homeland. We enter into Passion week hearing the cries of children, mothers, friends and families—plunged into hell for no reason but that they live in a country of peace. T. S. Eliot writes:

‘And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’

Annually, our Lenten exploration into our souls can bring us to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection as if “for the first time”. Undoubtedly, the violence we know this year vibrates with the senseless killing of innocence seen in the crucifixion. There is so much similarity between current events and the events we remember each Paschal cycle. Sometimes it seems that Christ’s humanness is lost when we celebrate His divinity at Easter. We forget that He was a man who did not want to die and prayed that “this cup be taken from him”. We forget that God did not force Him to be crucified. Jesus, the man, did not want to die, but He would not compromise what He stood for in order to save himself from the untrue accusations of His enemies.

Hence, it can be misleading to say that “Jesus died for our sins,” as if He had planned the event. Jesus died because of our sins. Jesus’s life demonstrates how a human being can live an ordinary human life choosing love always. Through Christ we see that living love begets life—all the good things we call “life” such as inclusion, kindness, compassion. These qualities lead to equity, and ultimately happiness, because people would help each other to mitigate the inevitable pain and problems that come with being alive.  We would recognize and act on our interconnection the way Jesus did.

As much as love begets life, hate begets death. Throughout life, of course, we humans struggle in a vast spectrum between the two: Love=God; hate=sin.

We desperately want to simplify life by reducing the constant struggle into categories of good/bad, right/wrong, white/black. (For example, I might see what is easy and desirable for me as right, ignoring any negative effects on you). And so we live in a perpetual muddle of uncertainty over claims of power, rules, laws, whether political or religious.

So why did Jesus, who kept His focus only on goodness, “have” to die? Love does not mean that you “let” others kill you. No.

Christ’s way of living threatened those who profited from human oppression and fear. In fact, Christ stood with the oppressed. In the words of Pope Francis:

“If we really want to love God, we must be passionate about humanity, about all humanity, especially those who live the condition in which the Heart of Jesus was manifested, that is, pain, abandonment and rejection; especially in this throwaway culture that we live in today. When we serve those who suffer we console and rejoice in the Heart of Christ.”

We want to believe that the “victory of the cross” is a vanquishing of suffering. If we are good Christians all will be well, right? We want to believe this, despite the teachings of the gospels. But this Sunday, as we take our branches home, we cannot ignore the present anguish of Ukraine and we recognize anew the cross and resurrection.

In the time of Christ, the cross was used as a criminal penalty by the dominant power—Rome. It was an instrument of humiliation and degradation as well as death. Remember, Christ embraced humanity, his own and all people’s. A crucifixion is designed, as it were, to dehumanize the victim.

The victory of the cross is that despite all the abuse and indignity, Christ did not stop loving. He did not stop caring. He maintained His human dignity and refused to become like His tormentors.

“To make the same point differently, people like Jesus and Paul were not executed for saying,

‘Love one another.’ They were killed because their understanding of love meant more than being compassionate toward individuals, although it did include that. It also meant standing against the domination systems that ruled their world, and collaborating with the Spirit in the creation of a new way of life that stood in contrast to the normalcy of the wisdom of the world. Love and justice go together. Justice without love can be brutal, and love without justice can be banal.“

 (M. J. Borg and J. D. Crossan)

Currently, the world sees Ukraine, defending human dignity, standing for justice and peace. Again the power of oppression and greed is threatened. Hate strives to destroy love.

But this is why we celebrate the victory of the cross. Love is greater than hate. Love is stronger than death. Christ is with us. He is and always will be. Ukraine will rise again!


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Blessed is the Kingdom….

We have focused on the Proskomydia and the Liturgy of the Word; this Sunday our Lenten reflection rests on the third part of the Divine Liturgy: the Liturgy of the Faithful—the culmination of our common prayer, where we share in the Eucharistic meal and reinforce our unity as the body of Christ. 

 

Recall that in the Early Church, believers in Christ were being persecuted, tortured and killed, as our people are by Russian forces in Ukraine today. After hearing the scriptures and the homily, only the baptized could stay for the sharing of communion. This was done not to be superior, but to protect those who had committed their lives to Christ’s way. Only the truly dedicated received baptism, because a Christian was more likely to undergo the suffering of Christ than the safety and health that many today mistakenly expect from faith in God.

Therefore, the unbaptized were asked to leave, since imposters and betrayers might be among them. Thus the Liturgy resumes with the words: “Only the faithful, again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord!”

Now, no one is asked to leave. We “the faithful” stand before the altar—before God—asking for mercy (God’s tenderness) on behalf of all humanity. The peace, health, and safety we entreat is for all creation. With the Cherubic hymn we enter a heavenly space: We are angels; we put aside our cares; we sing joyfully.

In this way we enter into the mystery of our life in Christ—God becoming human unites our humanity with God. The alleluia is our response of awe to this inexplicable mystical reality. While we sing, the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar (the Great Entrance); again the incense fills our physical senses with the knowledge of the Spirit filling our being. The Great Entrance symbolically represents Christ’s passion and death. As Jesus did, we pray to be delivered from “tribulation, wrath, and misfortune.” Together we recite the “Creed” confirming the baptismal commitment we made as we became members of our Church family. But first, we join in the flow of the Trinity by showing our love for each other. “Let us love one another, so that with one mind we profess.” We complete the statement: “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in being and undivided.” Now of course, the pandemic prevents close contact, but without pandemic precautions, we embrace each other as sisters and brothers in a kiss of peace saying: “Christ is among us! He is and shall be! We strive toward a relationship of unity with each other in Christ.

After this, the Eucharistic prayer or Anaphora begins. “Eucharist” means thanksgiving. Gratitude in itself is relationship with another beyond ourselves. We raise our hearts in thanksgiving as Father lifts up the bread and wine of the eucharist. The prayer over the gifts follows the same form as the Jewish Prayer of Thanksgiving, the Birkat-hamazon, prayed by Jesus the night He was betrayed. In this silent prayer, the priest recalls all that God has done for us since the beginning of time and asks for the Spirit to come upon us and the gifts of bread and wine. We respond with gratitude, placing ourselves in Christ’s presence just as His followers were at that Lord’s Supper. We hear Christ’s words spoken to them, and now to us, that this bread and wine given to us by Christ—Is Christ Himself.  The next silent prayers encompass everyone again including those before us, the angels, saints, and Mother of God. We prepare to receive communion with gratitude, prayer, and love for our neighbour. As Pope Francis has said, Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, as some like to think. It is a mystical event that raises all humanity to equality, dignity, and union. Eucharist is communion/koinonia: sharing in common.   

The sacrament of Eucharist is the fulfilment of the Divine Liturgy; it is how we physically take part in Christ’s heavenly presence among us. The Eucharist is a gift of grace that unites us as a community of faith, so we are all invited, by Christ, to receive the sacrament.

  Unless we have committed a mortal sin (that means we are very troubled and need to look for spiritual guidance), we come to the Eucharistic celebration to be renewed in our faith and to strengthen our relationship with Christ through our church community. When we receive the Eucharist the priest reminds us that “the servant of God is communicated with the precious

body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, amen.”  The sacrament of confession (penance) is not mandatory before receiving Communion. Can we, as human people, ever pretend to be so perfect as to approach God? We approach, not because we are sinless, but because we accept God’s grace that we know through Christ and experience through the Holy Spirit as community.

  Before we share in communion, we pray the Lord’s prayer, calling God our Father, admitting we are His children. We pray before approaching that this meal not be “for judgement or condemnation but for the healing of soul and body.” “Jesus still and always ‘eats with sinners’.” (R. Rohr)

The Divine Liturgy concludes in thanksgiving, and newly inspired prayer for our world. We leave in peace, committed afresh to spreading love where we are, recognizing others as our siblings and treating them with openness and honesty.

“Do not forsake us who hope in you. Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches,  . . .to our nation under God, to our government and to all your people.”

  We are not alone. We are loved. We are wanted. We are invited to a table of life-giving nourishment together with all humanity on behalf of all creation. We are invited and we respond: Amen!


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Blessed is the Kingdom!

Our Church leaders, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Patriarch Josyf Slipyj and their successors worked tirelessly to restore our Traditional liturgical practices in the face of Latinization from Polish Roman Catholicism that dominated Halychyna at the end of the 19th c. Soviet rule tried to destroy our Church, just as now Russia desires to annihilate everything Ukrainian.

Here, we resist with our prayer and with a determination to protect and preserve our most sacred of services: the Divine Liturgy.

Last week we looked at the Divine Liturgy as relationship: we come to church to join with our community of faith. We come to be together with Christ in the company of others who also long to be with Christ. There we join with the entire Church, including past and future, living and dead. We join with all creation in celebrating our salvation and the hope of everlasting life with God. We give ourselves in gratitude as we do when we are with someone we love. We are present in our inadequacies, our exhaustion, our failures, and fears. We come for acceptance, welcome, comfort, encouragement, and strength. As with our closest loved one, we find joy in simply being together.

In order to really see it as relationship, we have to understand that each Divine Liturgy is not only a celebration of Easter—the resurrection—but it is also an entrance into the profound, unfathomable meaning of God becoming human. If we are mindful, the Divine Liturgy helps us to encounter our own humanity and the sacred in us. Hence the rituals are symbolic and ancient, speaking to us on many levels of our being, both conscious and subconscious. Over the centuries, the DL has evolved into 3 sections: We have looked at the first one: the Liturgy of Preparation or Proskomydia. Today we see the second section: the Liturgy of the Wordю Next week we’ll look at the third and final section: the Liturgy of the Faithful.

Liturgy of the Word

When Father proclaims “Blessed is the Kingdom . . .” he faces the East together with us. At each Liturgy we stand together as pilgrims, transforming, growing, on the path to conversion or (in Pope Francis’s terms) integral ecological conversion. We grow in Christ: recognizing Him in all creation. The “royal” doors are open—joining heaven and earth. We are with the angels and saints–the entire church living and deceased. The deacon has incensed the church, bowing to us in greeting. We bow in return, inhaling the incense that signifies our prayer, and the Holy Spirit, “Heavenly King, Advocate, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things…”.

With Christ, with the Spirit, we join in the community of the Trinity together with all creation.

Our first prayers together are the Great Litany (ektenia) where we bring before God’s love and tenderness (mercy) all humanity and creation: “in peace” we pray for peace. We name ourselves, our leadership, our nation, every country and place. We pray for the military, the captives, those suffering, or sick, those travelling on land or sea. We even pray for good weather and crops!

Close your eyes. Take a few moments to focus your consciousness on this notion:  we stand as a community sharing our faith in the Trinity—in our connection to all living things. Individually we would surely lack stamina to pray so inclusively, but together we are like the incense—filling the air with our desire for peace and goodness in our present world. We place ourselves in the mystery of the universe—without end or beginning.

After our petitions to God, we sing the Antiphon: excerpts from psalms and scripture. These change with the celebrations of feast days, but on Sunday the first antiphon is always that of Easter (except during Great Lent)! Every Sunday is a celebration of our salvation through Christ’s resurrection. Again, that is why we do not kneel during Divine Liturgy: “Shout to the Lord, all the

earth; sing His name and give glory to His praise!”

We sing the 6th century hymn: Only begotten Son and Word of God . . . as a statement of our faith before the “Minor Entrance” where Father, Deacon and altar servers bring the Gospel (the Incarnation—the Word of God) to us. Children and candle bearers gather close, remembering Christ’s welcome of everyone, especially children, to hear Him speak.

We sing “Holy God . . .” expressing the total unfathomable mystery of Christ: at once Divine and human, before listening to the Epistle and Gospel readings.

We hear excerpts of letters written to the first Christian communities and then a segment of Christ’s teaching as recorded by His followers. After over two thousand years, the words speak directly to us. And so, in the Homily, the priest reflects on how the readings can guide us today.

  The Liturgy of the Word ends with another litany of petition, as we again join in care for our world.

It is awe inspiring to know that our Divine Liturgy was practiced during the first Christian persecutions. This section of the service was called the Liturgy of the Catechumens, allowing new followers of Christ to hear and learn from the Scriptures. However, the Eucharist was allowed only for those committed to the faith through Baptism. Unbaptized were asked to leave as a precaution, ensuring no infiltrators seeking to destroy the Church would be admitted to share the sacrament of the Eucharist. Those without baptism were asked to leave and the doors were closed, leaving only the most faithful.

Perhaps we have taken our DL for granted. In Ukraine, suddenly, people living ordinary lives have lost their lives, simply for being Ukrainian. Our Faith, our culture, our people are, once again, under attack, besieged, martyred without even knowing why.

Let’s be a resistance of love, kindness and solidarity—knowing the powerful meaning of our DL and our Faith Traditions.