The last few years have been unsettling ones. With the recent news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was yet another confirmation of a world plagued by power, ego and greed. For many of us, social media provided a raw perspective on what was unfolding in Ukraine in heartbreakingly raw detail. This footage was not solely filtered through conventional media but also came from those directly impacted by the war.
We saw videos of families fleeing their homes while bombs exploded around them. Vulnerable children continued cancer treatments while sheltering in subway tunnels as their medical team comforted and held them. We cheered at the practical compassion of mothers who left their own strollers at train stations for Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Poland with only what they could carry. The image of a nursing mother whose body was battered and bruised witnessed that she had shielded her child from a bomb — and beside her was her stoic husband.
Acts of barbarism, hate and power are being countered by heroic deeds of incredible service, courage and mercy. As bombs rained down on innocent civilians, leaders from across the world pleaded for peace, including Pope Francis who consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
War, unfortunately, is as old as mankind itself. Where you find envy, greed and power, you will also find war, strife and division. A wise friend of mine reminded me some years ago that the word “ego” stands for “Edging God Out.” At the heart of war is ego — the ego of those who covet what does not belong to them, the ego of those who think they are superior to others, the ego of those who play God with the lives of others.
Trying to edge God out of our lives is something that human beings have done since the dawn of time and the Bible is replete with clear examples of this. In the Book of Genesis, we see the ego of Adam and Eve who lied and tried to edge God out of the Garden of Eden. In the Book of Exodus, we see the ego of the Israelites who made a golden calf for themselves to worship and, in the New Testament, we meet the Pharisees who edge God out through an overzealous focus on the law leading to rigidity and legalism.
Behind and in the midst of all the disunity and discord is the evil one. The devil is the king of ego and the usurper of peace. It is he who profits most from war, division and hatred. But we know from Jesus’ example on the cross that ego and power will never have the last word, as our faith teaches us.
In Jesus we have the supreme example of selflessness, love and service as he conquers ego, sin and corruption on the cross. During this turbulent time and especially during the Lenten season, this is an opportune time to refocus and repent for all the ways that we edge God out of our lives. Is it through our busyness? Neglecting time for prayer? Missing Mass? Judging others and their motives unfairly? Coveting what others have? Craving power? Dodging humility and accountability?
As we move from Lent and enter into Holy Week, we are reminded that a world without God is a world without peace. As the popular saying goes, “Know Jesus, know peace. No Jesus, no peace.” Each day we must battle our own temptation to edge God out of our lives, for in doing so, we find no peace in our lives and peace is something that the world desperately needs — peace in our hearts, homes and countries.
Jesus knows that ego leads us into sin and temptation, but reminds us that “in this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we see the many ways that Jesus comes to remind us of God’s rightful place at the center of our lives, not on the sidelines. Let there be peace and let it begin with each one of us.
Stanz is director of discipleship and parish life for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Braving the Thin Places: Celtic Wisdom to Create a Space for Grace” (Loyola Press).