How to face evil
Horrible images of desperation have populated our television screens and public psyche the last few weeks. To imagine the despair that would inspire someone to try to hold on to an airplane as it is lifting off defies comprehension. It calls to mind the deep evil that caused people to feel so threatened and alone. It is not the first time we have had to look into the face of evil and human misery. The 20th century saw the advent of new proportions of carnage and death in the two world wars. It happened first in Europe, then also in Asia. Skyrocketing rates of divorce threaten the very existence of the family, a foundational element of our society. The evil of abortion has robbed the lives of millions of babies and scarred the hearts of millions of survivors: those men and women who were involved in some way in abortion and live to regret having participated in something so evil.
What do you do when you are confronted with evil?
One popular response seems to be indifference. We can try to ignore the evil that is in the world. This can be paired with an effort to live distracted. Perhaps this is even related to the exponential increase of gadgets and toys that are an aid to “get our minds off things.” If we begin to feel perturbed about the situation in Afghanistan, we can always change the channel to some inane program or slip on our Airpods and rock out to our favorite Spotify playlist. Distraction is an industry in our modern world and can contribute to perpetuating indifference.
We can try to start a peace movement. It is admirable to see how many men and women have become symbols of peace. We can think of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr., just to name a few. They dedicated their lives to try to defuse tense situations without resorting to war or violence. It seems, however, that these efforts must be connected to something transcendent if they are not to become deformed and decrepit. It is often religious faith that keeps people on the right track in these efforts.
The third response to evil is to look for the solution beyond our own powers. In today’s Gospel, we hear that “the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mk. 9:31) When God saw the rise of evil in the world, he decided to face it head-on. Jesus did not try to sidestep evil. He offered himself, his very life, to conquer death and evil. When he sees evil and human suffering, he can respond that he will give his life so that we might have life once again. Jesus “went with the disciples decisively, resolutely, toward Jerusalem in order to fulfill his mission of doing the Father’s will.” (Pope Francis, 2017) Pope Francis goes on to remark that the disciples were taken back by the resolve of Jesus. However, he was right to be so firm in his decision. Jesus “speaks a language of service, of humility… The worldly language is in opposition to God, as, for example, when there is vanity and the worldly desire to have power, not to serve, but to be served. We all know how gossip, speaking badly about others, is motivated by envy and jealousy that lead us down this path of destruction.” (Pope Francis, 2017).
Each of us has to choose between the language of service and the worldly language of seeking power. We see how evil has reared its ugly head often in the vain search of men for power. We are able to choose a language of service and imitate our Lord. He needs us to be ambassadors of his message of mercy in the world. Sometimes, it seems like talking about mercy is a cop-out. It seems weak like we are giving in. But the mercy of God is anything but weak. It is a mercy that is born of his own sacrifice. For Jesus to say “I forgive you,” first he had to die on the Cross. This is the meaning of the words he says in today’s Gospel. He sees the evil that persists in man’s heart. Rather than judging or condemning, he dies for us.
The various protests and manifestations have brought one thing to the forefront. We want to name the evil we are facing. We want to understand how the world can be so terrible and so terrifying. We need to put a name to our fears. And this responds to a deep psychological need that we all have. We have a natural way to give a name to evil as Catholics. We do this in the sacrament of Confession. When I kneel before a priest and confess my sins, I am naming the greatest enemies to my own spiritual and often even physical and mental well-being. “I accuse myself of slander… means that “I have spoken lies about others. The evil of untruth has entered into me and taken possession of my soul.” “I accuse myself of gossip…” means that “I have stolen another person’s good reputation from my words without even knowing if they are true. I have injured somebody with my words as truly as I could have ever done with a physical threat.” We learn to name the evils in our lives and we wait to hear the sweet words of absolution. When the priest raises his hand, makes the sign of the cross, and pronounces the words, that evil loses its grip on me and passes away. Mercy has conquered once again. And all of this is possible, only because “the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mk. 9:31) This is something that happened, something we celebrate each time we come together in the Eucharist. Thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are able to receive forgiveness from our sins and escape the grip of evil in our lives. Let us turn to him and prepare ourselves to celebrate this great sacrament of Eucharist, Emmanuel, Christ with us.
Pope Francis. (2017). The Gospel of Mark. A Spiritual and Pastoral Reading. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.