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Courage and Fear in the Time of War

Recalling FDR’s words and the example of Mother Teresa’s Sisters gives perspective…and hope.
February 24th, 2022

By Jim Towey

With Russia’s invasion and the brutal attacks on the people of Ukraine now underway, the world’s leaders will be tested in ways not seen since World War II.  How President Biden and our allies respond to the broad-daylight, telegraphed attack by Putin upon a sovereign, innocent people will determine the outcome.  Looking for a modern precedent to the present challenge is futile because Russia’s nuclear capabilities render comparisons to American experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan meaningless.  The widening cracks in globalized trade have emerged like a sudden earthquake, shaking the stock market.  We will soon feel the consequences on our shore of what Putin just set into motion.

America has a knack for coping and conquering challenges such as these.  Some senior citizens may recall from their childhood when America emerged from World War II triumphant, hopeful, confident, and proud.  Fast forward to the present, America’s mood today seems altogether different.  The Covid pandemic has brought to the surface a wholly different set of salient characteristics.  So much of America seems fearful, divided, confused and hyper-cautious.  Opinion polls show a great majority of Americans feel our country is heading in the wrong direction – and that was before Putin shook the world order. Unlike Zuckerberg’s silly metaverse and imaginary world, Putin’s tanks are rolling forward in reality, as he tries to get the band back together and resurrect the socialist state he once nurtured.  He may have judged from the West’s quick exit from Afghanistan, and America’s isolationist orientation, that he has a winning hand as a strong man with a finger on the nuclear button.  We shall see how well he calculated, and how effective our sanctions are.

Courage, not fear, needed

I don’t have any military or geopolitical expertise to offer on what a winning strategy to preserve world peace might look like.  But I do know that a fear-based response won’t work.  What is needed is courage, resolve, and most of all, recourse to God in these times of uncertainty.  The Missionaries of Charity, the order of priests, brothers and sisters founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, have much to teach the world about coping with and conquering fear. They have a mission house in Kiev, and over a dozen in Russia (they were in Afghanistan, too, until they were driven out).  They remain in Yemen, Syria, the South Sudan, Haiti and other global hotspots where violence is prevalent, feeding the hungry, serving the poor, and coping with fear. 

In the Bronx, where the sisters have served for 50 years in a neighborhood crippled by crime and now, Covid, the Sisters have kept their soup kitchen open regardless of the challenges, providing “to go” food when public health officials prohibited group dining.  The Sisters re-opened their men’s shelter for the homeless as soon as the government allowed them, just as they did in their other homes throughout America and the world – even though in 2021, 59 sisters died of Covid. 

Trust in God

The Sisters don’t fear death.  They are too busy living, serving, loving and trusting. They have an unshakable trust in the loving God who numbers their days, and they go about changing the world around them. 

It would do us all well to ponder their example and turn to God in these times of trial, just as leaders like King David did in ancient times, just as Jesus Christ turned to His heavenly Father in His hour of need.  God assures us that we are never alone.  Men and women formed in God’s image and likeness will be equipped with the strength and wisdom to discern what to do. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933 just after Adolph Hitler emerged as Germany’s dictator.  We remember FDR’s famous statement on that occasion, “The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” 

We would do well to remember how he concluded his inaugural address that day: “In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God.  May He protect each and every one of us.  May He guide me in the days to come.”  Let us pray for President Biden and all those entrusted with leadership.


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