At the writing of this column, pieces were still being put together in the aftermath of the bombings of the Boston Marathon. At this juncture we did not know who did it and why they did it. We do know that people died and many more were injured and that there is no excuse that be given why such a thing had to happen. What we saw was the face of evil.
At the writing of this column, a trial was happening in Philadelphia for the abortionist Kermit Gosnell. What happened within the confines of his abortion clinic made the savagery of what happened in Boston look calm. Tales of babies born alive and executed by having their throats slit, two women losing their lives, decrepit conditions straight out of a horror movie, and a disturbing depravity emerge as details of trial go on. The media ignored this story until an outcry arose. What we saw again is the face of evil.
Over my lifetime we have seen that face of evil arise time and again: Columbine, 9/11, Newton CT, Aurora CO, Oklahoma City, and far too many other instances to bear.It should be enough for any sane person to scream out, ENOUGH! We can feel helpless in the face of such atrocity. However, we must do something. Some take the stance if we ban guns, or violent video games, or violent movies, or some other thing that we can rein in such evil. Truth be told, we can ban all these things and so much else and it will not solve the problem. The problem is the evil that resides in the human heart. Unfortunately, we cannot legislate that. However, this leaves far from hopeless.
Our Catholic faith tells us that there is a profound alternative. I will admit that too many times our Catholic faith has been hijacked by those who called themselves Catholic and used it as a tool of manipulation or a weapon of destruction. To do so, though, they had to break the very foundations on which our faith is built. Our faith is built on a very simple premise, a single commandment that Christ gave: Love one another. This love, of which Jesus speaks, a translation of the Greek word ‘agape’, is a love that is completely self giving. St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives an exposition of this love. He calls it patient and kind, a willingness to seek the good and rejoice in it. This love spurs us to courage and strength. It is the very antithesis of evil.
We have seen this love on display many times. It spurs us to heroic actions. One of the most powerful pictures of 9/11 involved pictures of first responders, firefighters, police officers, and clerics (like Fr Mychal Judge) running to the twin towers to offer help and assistance, knowing full well that to do so put their lives in jeopardy.It is the perfect answer to the face and aftermath of evil. Evil will happen…our response will determine how deep the aftermath will be. If we respond with revenge and violence, we perpetuate the aftermath of evil. If we respond with courage and selfless love, we stem the aftermath of evil and even, perhaps, stop further evil from happening.
Which side wins? It goes back to a Native American parable about the two wolves that exist within the human heart, one good and one evil. The one that wins is the one that is fed more. We would call these two wolves, virtue and vice. Whether virtue or vice wins is up to each individual. Hence, each individual either stems or perpetuates evil and its aftermath. In my own life, I am finding the following disquieting questions ones needing to be answered and changed for the better. If we truly want to see the violence and evil stemmed, it will begin in our own hearts and in our living it bravely.
My first question in confronting the face of evil is in asking myself how it is that I entertain myself. Do I see death, violence, and mayhem sources of entertainment? Our culture certainly does! Be it violent video games, violent movies, violent music, violent TV shows, and that list goes on…violence has become a mainstay in our entertainment culture. Taking pleasure in viewing and participating in violence most assuredly does not feed virtue and speaks nothing of selfless love. It feeds vice, it feeds revenge and it feeds hate and intolerance. It feeds every depravity of the human heart. But the entertainment aspect also flows into our culture of gossip. Why do we feel the necessity to trash another person’s reputation as a way of entertaining ourselves? Why do we feel the freedom to speculate and badger? I am no fan of most music as of late, but I look at the likes of a Britney Spears or Justin Beiber and see how they are stalked, ridiculed, belittled, and quite frankly, bullied and wonder why we have the audacity to wonder why these kids implode. I see it in the digging remarks I make for no other reason than to run my foolish mouth. We cannot entertain ourselves with evil and expect good to come of it.
My second question is how I respect the dignity and integrity of others. Evil has respect for neither. Good is cautious with both. The first step to fomenting evil is to strip away the humanity of another. Nazi Germany did this with the Jews. It was necessary for the propagation of chattel slavery. It is absolutely necessary for the practice of pornography. It is absolutely necessary for abortion. It is needed for gossip and every other evil we inflict. If I do not respect you as a human being, then it justifies whatever evil I inflict. If we expect evil to be conquered both in our own hearts and in our society, respecting the dignity and integrity of others is paramount. Our faith teaches us that our lives are to a reflection of the love of God. We are taught to treat others as we would want to be treated. This includes responding with forgiveness. Forgiveness stops evil in its tracks.
We lack the ability to control the human heart. No law can change the human heart. The only thing that changes the human heart is selfless love. It is our practice of this, or lack thereof, that altars the face and aftermath of evil. Revenge begets revenge. Hate begets hate. If we expect the cycle of evil and its aftermath to ever change for the better, then it will have to change within the hearts of every human person. While this seems impossible, it was because Christ wanted to afford each of this the means and grace to accomplish that He came and for which he selflessly offered His life on the cross.