Last week, Boris Johnson lifted all of England’s Covid restrictions (read here). If you catch the virus you no longer have to self-isolate. If you travel on public transport, you are no longer legally obliged to wear a face mask. We are back to where we were at the start of 2020. Almost. Self-isolation is encouraged for anyone who has tested positive, and wearing a face mask on public transport is “strongly encouraged”.
When the pandemic first hit, I updated my British Catholic Blogs page to include a series of prayers for the sick, medical professionals, scientists, and so on. The prayers appeared in a post below the weekly calendar of saints and above the A to Z of British Catholic blogs. When I heard that the restrictions were going to be lifted, I decided that this would be the moment when I removed the prayers and let the BCB blog go back to being exclusively devoted to its original purpose.
Then, Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine in earnest. When that happened, I wondered if I should include a new set of prayers for the Ukrainian people. As I write these words, I’m leaving the blog as it is because I really would like it just to be an A to Z. I am wondering, though, if maybe its worth while including a prayer page – one that could highlight the Ukraine, Covid, and all the other national and international issues that we need to be praying for right now.
Vladimir Putin has committed a profoundly wicked act against Ukraine. In reply, the Ukrainian people are committing many heroic ones as they defend their country. Governments worldwide have started placing sanctions on Russia in response to what has happened. Although these sanctions will hurt both ordinary Russians and people everywhere, I have to hope that no government holds back. Principally, to help Ukraine, but also because if Putin achieves success in that country, his avaricious eye will surely fall upon other countries on his borders.
How do we as individuals react to the Ukrainian crisis? Prayer has to be at the top of our agenda. What kind of prayer? For peace, certainly. Further to that, though, I have found myself thinking about the Catholic I once met who happily told me he prayed the imprecatory psalms against his enemies. At the time, I thought that a bit stiff but, you know, these psalms are Biblical so they are legit. What I never stopped to think, was, were they legit for the time in which they were written, or for all time? I might have been tempted to say the former – until now. For what he is doing to the Ukraine, Putin surely deserves every imprecation placed upon him. However, our God is a god of love so to put it bluntly it does not feel right to ask Him to punish anyone, much less remove the stain of them from the world. That love, however, is not of the merely sentimental kind, and neither does it exist in isolation. God is also a god of Justice. But, even more than that, of mercy. So, that is where I find myself now: praying that justice – and mercy – may be done to Vladimir Putin.
Praying the imprecatory psalms or simply praying for a person’s overthrow or death is not a thing lightly done. If we say these prayers without a desire first and foremost for the object’s repentance, we risk falling into a spiritual darkness full of malignant desires for vengeance and revenge. That, in turn, could destroy our souls. How do we avoid this? I guess, just as I have said: Yes, pray for Vladimir Putin’s failure, overthrow and/or death, but pray first and foremost for his repentance. The repentance of a sinner, however great or small, is what God is about. If it is His purpose, it should be ours as well.