Meeting the War Wearied with Christ

By Hugh Vincent Dyer O.P.

Posted 4/30/08 at 6:47 PM


“eternally scourged…” Plate 3 Miserere et Guerre—Georges Rouault (1871-1958)

One day last week I stood in front of St. Stephen Martyr Church in D.C. with a young religious sister and the pastor of the parish. The scene would have made for a typical beginning to a joke, “A priest, a nun, and a friar, were…” We were talking, laughing, and enjoying the sun; a diocesan priest in black, a Franciscan sister in brown and a Dominican in white.

A young lady with olive skin, black hair, and black eyes approached us. Her accented voice trembled as she asked us to pray with her there on the street. She explained that her brother had been killed in Baghdad and her father had been kidnapped a year ago. We all closed our eyes and bowed our heads as Monsignor prayed. He prayed for the comfort of this woman’s family, for mercy, and healing. He ended the prayer with a Hail Mary.

With the prayers finished the young woman shared her story. She was certain her father, who worked with a European embassy, was dead as he had been abducted by a group of insurgents who are notorious for beheading people. Her brother had been shot because he worked for the Iraqi military. The rest of her family fled.

She told us that her family is Muslim, but did not practice in a way suitable to the insurgents. Her deceased brother had always told family members that if they needed anything they should go to the Catholic Church and ask a priest to pray with them. Last week, his sister was following that advice. She was riding the bus when she spotted the Church, a priest, a nun, and a friar. She got off the bus at the next stop and backtracked to where we were standing.

She left us after offering effusive thanks with a smile and peaceful countenance. The encounter with this woman in pain gave me occasion to think. On that afternoon, she was continuing to follow the advice of her brother who knew in some way to seek Christ.

The thought of war is wearisome, and sometimes I think and pray only about the return of our soldiers and the end, instead of those who are suffering now. Christ suffers with them, with all of us, until we find him—until we find Peace.

In this time of war I wish to recall a poem of the convert poetess Dame Edith Sitwell. Still Falls the Rain was written during the Second World War following the bombing of Britain by the Nazis and was later set to music by Sir Benjamin Britten.

Still Falls the Rain
(The Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn)

Still falls the Rain-
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss-
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross

Still falls the Rain-
With a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer-beat
in the Potter’s Field, and the sound of the impious feet

On the Tomb:
Still falls the Rain
In the Field of Blood where the small hopes breed and the human brain
Nurtures its greed, that worm with the brow of Cain.

Still falls the Rain-
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there
have mercy on us-
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.

Still falls the Rain-
Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side:
He bears in his Heart all wounds- those of the light
that died
The last faint spark
In the self-murdered heart, the wounds of the sad, uncomprehending dark,
The wounds of the baited bear -
The blind and weeping bear whom the keepers beat
On his helpless flesh… the tears of the hunted hare.

Still falls the Rain-
Then - O Ile leape up to my God: who pulles me doune-
See, see where Christ’s blood streames in the firmament:
It flows from the Brow we nailed upon the tree
Deep to the dying, to the thirsting heart
That holds the fires of the world - dark-smirched with pain
As Caesar’s laurel crown.
Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man
Was once a child who among beasts has lain-
‘Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood for thee’.