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Good or Evil?

Mt. 5:17-30

Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. "You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. "It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife - unless the marriage is unlawful - causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. "Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one."

We like to think that we are the good guys. We paint the world in terms of “us vs. them,” assuming our own moral superiority. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so simple? But truly, this polarization is something that is hurting our society. It is unhelpful to dismiss people as evil when they hold a different opinion than my own. We can all be searching for the Truth, and be a little confused on the way. The challenge is to sweep away the distractions and prepare ourselves to receive the Truth, who is the person Jesus Christ.

Choose good or evil

Saint Augustine points out that freedom is essentially freedom to do good. When we are weighed down by sin and sinful desires, we are not truly free. We try to become more free by developing virtue and having this at the center of our spiritual lives. It is good for us to have models of good lives, since this is one of the easiest ways to grow morally as humans. Hopefully, this is what we experience, beginning in our own families. I am thankful that this was my case. So much of who I am, I learned from my parents.

Today’s Opening Prayer, the Collect, speaks about how God abides in hearts that are just and true. This is something we want, that God can abide in our hearts. What does it mean to have a heart that is just and true. The Gospel gives four fundamental characteristics: don’t kill, don’t cheat, don’t be unfaithful, and don’t lie. It is not the whole of the moral law, but it is a good start.

Even the first reading speaks of choosing between good and evil. The prophet Sirach says: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” (Sir. 15:16)

To have the moral courage to choose good, it is helpful to remember that sin is slavery. Sin is always presented to us in an enticing way; otherwise, no one would choose it. The philosophical tradition speaks of this, saying that evil is presented as an apparent good – sub specie boni. But sin never leads to true satisfaction. Suffering comes from evil. This does not mean that all suffering is caused directly by sinful actions, but without evil, there would be no suffering in the world. Thus, in Heaven, we will be free from sin and from suffering.

What do you want – good or evil?

Basically good men and women

The Gospel gives us the description of the “basically good man or woman.” “Don’t kill, don’t cheat, don’t be unfaithful, and don’t lie.” It does not seem to be too much to ask. But then, we can ask ourselves, is this enough? Is this what Christianity is all about?

My reflection would be that no, it is not. Christianity is not merely a moral code, an insurance policy that we are behaving. Rather, Christianity is an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ. When we find someone we love, we change. We want to be better. We want to serve. We want to be worthy of the love that is given to us freely. It is no different when we encounter Jesus in a real way.

Proper discernment

Now, it is not always so easy to choose the good, and especially the better. Growing in prayer can be a great way to get to know what God is asking of us concretely in different moments of our lives. St. Ignatius of Loyola had his own conversion experience, seeking to do always what would serve “the greater glory of God.” He came up with his Spiritual Exercises, which saints and sinners have practiced for centuries in their search for holiness.

When we do the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, we enter into an atmosphere of prayer and reflection that helps to see who we are in the grand scheme of things. It helps us to put God first and to recognize his voice and traces of grace that he is leaving in our lives.

Collect Prayer

O God, who teach us that you abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.

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