South Bend, Ind., Nov. 12, 2019 / 2:48 a.m. (CNA). – Are the times good or bad these days?
It depends, in part, on how one reads the tenses.
On the one hand, advances in technology have reduced the illiteracy rate worldwide from 90% to just 10%. Advances in science and medicine allow people to live longer and healthier lives.
“Those are some of the good things that are happening. I think a lot of this is done out of friendship, out of good intentions,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Ukrainian Catholic Archeparch of Philadelphia and Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States, said November 7. Gudziak was one of the keynote speakers at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture’s 21st Annual Fall Conference, which this year had the theme, “I’ve Called You Friends.”
“I don’t canonize our time and I don’t canonize longevity, but we appreciate those things,” he said.
“And yet times are not so good,” Gudziak added.
“In fact, they look like… what they looked like in 1914, when the Western world was convinced that progress would lead us to great happiness. Then the massacres began. World Wars. Genocides,” Gudziak said.
He noted that despite all of our technological and social advancements, Americans are lonelier, more depressed, and more stressed than ever. In Pennsylvania, one of the states where he serves, the opioid crisis has left people sick, dying, alone and hopeless.
“It is important to focus on friendship because no amount of material, educational, technological, industrial well-being can compensate for the relationships we are called to,” he said.
Gudziak said some of the deepest friendships he has seen are those he witnessed in Soviet Russia before his fall, and those he continues to witness in communist-controlled countries, although those friendships are neither easy nor free.
“In all those countries that were or continue to be communist, where millions of people were killed, where the system killed systematically, people have developed over generations the reflex of putting on a mask, putting up a facade, to build a wall because the outside world is dangerous,” Gudziak said.
Families are encouraged to report authorities against each other in communist countries, “so that family members don’t say anything, because you can’t trust them.” It becomes like radiation.
“You can’t taste it, it has no smell or color, but it mutates genes. There is an additional fear chromosome. It’s a reflex. You can’t control it. Two billion people have an additional hurdle to cultivate deep friendship.
And yet, it was in these oppressive conditions in Soviet Russia that the Ukrainian Catholic Church, while losing many members, developed deep roots and bonds of friendship among those who remained.
“(The) Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which had around 4 million members in 1939, with 3,000 priests, has been totally – on a visible level – liquidated,” Gudziak said.
“In 1945-46, all the bishops were arrested, hundreds of priests with their families were deported to Siberia. The church was made illegal and it remained the largest illegal church in the world for 43 years until 1989. And it was greatly reduced. In 1989, there were only 300 priests left,” he said.
“But what a community it was! Forged in this fire of persecution,” he added.
When he encountered the Underground Church, Gudziak said everything was stripped down to the bare minimum – bishops had jobs as paramedics or coal workers, there were no schools, churches, or official institutions of any kind. The bishops didn’t even know each other, because it was too dangerous to tell someone your name in an underground seminary.
“And yet they were deeply friends of Christ, and it was an incredible, intense relationship between those in hiding,” Gudziak said.
“Friendship was not only a good thing, it cost deeply to be a friend of Christ in an atheistic totalitarian system,” he said. “It cost you to transmit the faith to your children. But the fruits are amazing.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church again has 3,000 priests, 5 million members and 800 seminarians.
The history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is important because “it is the history of the cross,” Gudziak told CNA in an interview.
“I think the history of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its persecution, its clandestine life, its survival…it’s not a philosophy, it’s a story of human fidelity to God…the fidelity of concrete people to God and to each other.
Since the beginning of mankind, God has taught human beings true friendship, Gudziak noted in his talk.
“From the scriptures that we know through our faith, we see that the Lord so desires to make us his friends. Moses had a special privilege of seeing face to face. Abraham was called a friend. The value of friendship was modeled by David and Jonathan,” he said.
“So Jesus came to us. Our faith, our church, our theology, our civilization is based on this incredible gesture that God comes to be close, to transmit his divinity. He is sitting next to us,” he said.
“Which God, which Lord, and what does he convey? He transmits the divine life shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Friendship… motivates the Father to send his Son into the filth (of the world), into our anxiety, our sin, the absolute blackness we can create, into our hell, into our death, to create relationships, to create trust, intimacy, to establish an alliance.
“Friendship,” he said, “is the school of spiritual life that reflects the gift of relationship we have by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God. God is triune. It is personal and there is a relationship. As people, we are called to relationship. We are called to friendship.
Besides his appointments in the United States, Gudziak is also the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. In an effort to teach its students about true friendship, the university invites scholars as well as students with disabilities into its classes and campus, he said.
“Not because they need us, because they need our welfare, but because God’s children with special needs have special gifts. They don’t care where you got your Ph.D. or how many posts you have. They don’t notice how rich or poor you are or what title you have,” he said.
“They have a fundamental question: Can you love?… There is no more important pedagogical question.”
In a world increasingly divided along political, religious and ideological lines, Gudziak told CNA that it is all the more important for Christians to reflect on God’s friendship with us, and in return on our friendship. with him and with others.
“I think since the Enlightenment, when we focus a lot on ideas, ideas tend to become ideologies. And our consciousness in the western world is very intellectualized, and our relationships can become abstract. They can be categorized by different positions, worldviews, and they are in our head,” he said.
“If we look carefully at the Gospels and listen to Jesus, he does not talk about big ideas. He speaks of the Father, of the Holy Spirit. It talks about relationships,” he added. “He talks about people and the interaction between people, and he uses very personal and very concrete examples and stories to teach about life. It does not start from ideas, systems, ideologies and systems.
In his talk at the conference, Gudziak noted that Jesus befriended “very concrete people, Peter and John and Nathaniel. It’s not an ideology, it’s not a system. There weren’t too many buildings there in Jesus’ time, nor in Paul’s time, or for 300 years.
“So maybe if we lose the buildings and the endowments and the properties, maybe that’s not the end of things, if we can recover or develop our friendship more deeply.”