Monday, March 12, 2007

The most effective response to evil

Conversion. The Holy Father's Angelus address from yesterday. Read it, ponder it chew over it.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The passage of Luke's Gospel proclaimed on this Third Sunday of Lent refers to Jesus' comments on two current events of that time. The first was the uprising of some Galileans, which was suppressed by Pilate with the shedding of blood; the second was the collapse of a tower in Jerusalem, which caused the death of 18 victims. They were two tragic, yet very different, events. The first was caused by man, the other was accidental.

According to the mentality of the time, the people tended to think that the misfortune fell on the victims because of their grave fault. Jesus, on the contrary, says: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? ... Or those 18 upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?" (Luke 13:2,4). In both cases, he ends saying: "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will likewise perish" (13:3,5).

This is, therefore, the point to which Jesus wished to lead those who were listening to him: the need for conversion. He does not present it in moralistic, but rather in realistic terms, as the only appropriate response to events that put human certainties in crisis.

In the face of certain misfortunes, he advises, it is no good to blame the victims. What is truly wise, rather, consists in allowing oneself to be questioned by the precariousness of existence and to adopt an attitude of responsibility: to do penance and improve our lives.

This is wisdom, this is the most effective response to evil, at all levels, interpersonal, social and international. Christ invites us to respond to evil first of all through a serious examination of conscience and with the commitment to purify our lives. Otherwise, we will perish, he says, we will perish in the same way. In fact, people and societies that live without questioning themselves have ruin as their only final end. Conversion, on the contrary, despite the fact it does not preserve us from problems and adversities, enables us to address them in a different "way."

Above all it helps to prevent evil, and to neutralize some of its threats. And, in any case, it enables us to overcome evil with good, though not always at the level of events, which at times are independent of our will, certainly always at the spiritual level.

In short, conversion overcomes evil at its root, which is sin, though it cannot always avoid its consequences.

Let us pray to Mary, who accompanies and supports us in our Lenten journey, to help every Christians to rediscover the grandeur, I would even say the beauty, of conversion. May she help us understand that to do penance and correct our conduct is not simply moralism, but the most effective way to improve both ourselves as well as society. An apt maxim explains it very well: It is better to light a match than to curse the darkness.
(Emphases added.) Wow. It seems so simple and so natural, yet so difficult to do. When confronted with evil one does anything but: we rail against injustice, or run away, or cooperate with it in hopes that we might be spared, or we tend towards despair. The Holy Father says, our first response, which is the most effective one, is to examine ourselves, and then to repent. Do we do that? Do I do that?

And yes, he links evil and sin. Which is what, it would seem, he says Jesus was de-linking in these parables. That's because we think of "sin" only in terms of individual culpability, an individual "violation of the rules." Sin, biblically (especially the way St. Paul talks about it so often) is also a power, the power of evil, of the "ruler of this world." A power under whose domination we still live, even though, our faith tells us, that Christ's death vanquished this power. We escape this power, this force, "the dark side," by being joined to Christ's death, by being joined to his Body, and we do this, apart from the sacraments (which are God's initiative and Christ's actions), by conversion, constant conversion, the beginning of which is repentance. Repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

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