of good and evil


The problem of evil remains one of faith’s greatest mysteries. If God is so loving, why, OH WHY does so much evil exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do horrible people reap benefits while others suffer?

In today’s gospel reading, a leper came to Jesus asking to be cured. “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus, moved with pity, healed him. (Mark 1).

How many humble prayers are raised each day? Prayers for healing. Prayers for peace. Prayers for good to overcome the darkness and uncertainty that overwhelms our lives.

“God, I know you can…if you wish…please make it so!”

And yet, our prayers remain unanswered. Bad things keep happening to good people while the truly rotten thrive. We try to be people of faith, but our faith is tested over and over. Words that comforted us in the past now sound like empty, pious platitudes. All we see is the evil before us.

Life is not fair.

The world is heading to hell in a hand basket.

As each year ends, justice and peace seem more unattainable.

And yet…

There are glimmers of hope around the world. Pockets of resistance are morphing into national and global movements. Women are rising together against violence, inequality and sexual abuse. The young and the old are filling the streets, raising their voices against unjust leaders and governments. There is a renewed urgency for peace.

Evil has always been, but so has goodness. In the midst of the darkest times, brave women and men have risen to speak truth to power. They know what they “wish”, and they aren’t going to sit back and wait for someone to make it happen. Moved with pity, they are determined to make it so.

And, so we pray.

And, so we do.




looking evil in the face

Last night I had a horrible nightmare – the kind where your cries for help have no voice, and you finally wake with your heart racing. I dreamed that I was walking down an empty alley and heard foot-steps behind me. I turned around, and the face of Anders Behring Breivik was on my shoulder, staring me square in the eye.

The face of the Norwegian killer, responsible for the deaths of 77 souls last July, haunts me. Online photos and videos show an almost meticulously clean-cut young man. But his expression is one of slimy smugness, a leering evilness in his eyes. Would I think this if I hadn’t read the details of his horrific killings? Do I judge his looks because of his admission of guilt, while arrogantly professing that it was a righteous act?

It’s hard to look deep into the face of evil. Our history, past and present, has too many faces of tyrants, dictators and mass-murderers. We wish we could erase their images from our mind. We wish we could somehow erase the evil that was done. That continues to be done.

These lines are from today’s gospel reading,

For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. John 3: 20-21.

Breivik seems to be relishing the light of notoriety, greeting the court daily with a right-wing clenched-fist salute. The court and media are aware that the due process of the law will give him a world-wide platform from which to spew his venomous philosophy. Yet, the law must be respected. Every defendant must be given the freedom to speak. Hopefully, the media will rein in the publicity he seeks. This isn’t likely in our day of 24 hour news coverage and tabloid sensationalism.

Breivik has said he carried out the attacks to defend “ethnic Norwegians” from rising multiculturalism. When asked about his religious beliefs, he replied, “Well, I am a militant Christian; to prevent the de-Christianisation of Europe is very important”.

This is disturbing. Today, too many zealous Christians are throwing around military language, railing about a war against Christianity. They believe this is a time to call all Christians to spiritual arms, to ensure that our western society remains faithful to its Christian foundation. Perhaps they need to stop and look carefully at the language they are using. Breivik is but one example of what can happen when zealousness is allowed to go unchecked. Pride in one’s own nation or religion must never lead to racism, intolerance or hatred.

As this sad story unfolds in the courts of Norway, I can only think of the nightmares experienced by the family and friends of the 77 who lost their lives at the hands of this mad man. It is for their peace, and for eternal rest of their loved ones that I pray.

reality and a 5 minute retreat

The international clerical sexual abuse and cover-up scandals are again making Catholic news head-lines this week. Signs of progress are coming from an Abuse Summit taking place at the Vatican. From heart-wrenching personal witnesses by victims, to public penitential prayers, to acknowledgement of the accountability of both bishops and priests; there is hope that eyes are being opened and denials will no longer be accepted. John Allen’s daily reports over at the National Catholic Reporter give an insightful commentary on the summit proceedings.

Another NCR article chronicles a well-known story of massive cover-up and re-victimization of the abused not just by the offending clergy, but by their own families and parishes. Clerical power thwarts victims in Poland is a difficult article to read. I found my heart racing, and my body filling with angry tension. This is the country of my heritage with a culture of devoted Catholics, colorful pilgrimages, and love for the Blessed Mother. Yet, it is also the Church that angered my grand-father decades ago for its clericalism and greed.

By now, we know that our Church consists of sinners and saints. We cannot run from the reality of evil, for it must be faced and eradicated. But we also need to be nurtured and reminded of the existence of a loving God. We need to be reminded that we are beloved by God. And, we need to be reminded that we are loved by others. This is especially true for those who have been so deeply hurt and wounded.

I began my daily online reading with an uplifting piece from Sandy Prather’s column, Breaking Open the Ordinary in the Prairie Messenger. It raised my spirits, and I returned to it again after the depressing reading later in the day. If you can, take some time to read the entire reflection. It makes for a wonderful 5 minute retreat…

We likely will never have the actual experience of clouds parting and seeing the Holy Spirit descending like a dove upon us, but each of us needs to hear at least once in our life the spoken words: “You are the beloved; in you I am well pleased.” As disciples of Jesus, we carry the message to each other: God delights in you. It is to be affirmed into life.