Tag Archives: evil

Lamentation

Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young;
I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.
—Ezekiel 16:60–63

Matthias_Grünewald_-_Lamentation_of_Christ_(detail)_-_WGA10787
Matthias Grünewald, Lamentation of Christ (detail) / PD-US

This reading from Ezekiel reminds me of a recent video from Fr. Robert Barron, which is definitely worth a watch: Bishop Barron on Ezekiel and the Sex Abuse Crisis. Ezekiel wrote of the corruption within the holy city of Jerusalem and its cleansing through avengers from the North. Today, the “holy city” of the Church has fallen into corruption, and it too needs to be cleansed, to endure the painful siege of repentance. God will not abandon His covenant with us. But if we are to be cleansed, we must allow Him to show us the weight of our sin; we must be willing to feel our shame and sorrow.

It has been sobering to read reports of the horrific abuse that has occurred within the Church and the deep corruption that kept it hidden for years. As American Catholics, we are mourning over these unthinkable crimes and trying to figure out how we can possibly move forward through this mess.

The Gospel reading prior to this spoke of forgiveness, which may seem untimely at the moment. The Gospel asks us to forgive, but often we don’t understand the meaning of true forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean making excuses for the person who wronged you or brushing it under the rug. That’s not forgiveness; it’s denial. True forgiveness must acknowledge the sin and yet refuse to feed it. A person who forgives renounces any claim toward revenge and resists the tendency to harbor resentment. It is a daily decision, and it is not an easy one. But it is the only way that we can stop the cycle of sin and open our hearts to mercy. A truly forgiving heart is not indifferent to injustice; it is all the more deeply hurt by it, since it refuses to dehumanize either the victim or the perpetrator. It sees the tragedy of an innocent life altered irrevocably; it sees those individuals who used their God-given will for evil. And it resolves to do better.

I am reminded of the story of St. Maria Goretti and her murderer/attempted rapist, Alessandro Serenelli. Now, this is not a typical story—we should not go around assuming that all murderers and rapists will be reformed by our prayers and can be later welcomed into our families. But it is in fact what happened in the case of Alessandro Serenelli, incredible though it may seem. Though Alessandro was bitterly unrepentant for the first few years after Maria’s death, he experienced a profound conversion of heart after experiencing a vision of Maria in which she forgave him. He was moved to weep for his sins for the first time, and he began the process of true repentance. Due to Maria’s miraculous intercession (again, possible only through the grace of God and not by human means), he was completely reformed and eventually became an adopted son of Maria’s mother.

While Alessandro clung to his pride and callously denied his guilt, the seeds of sin and evil continued to fester within him. Only when he realized the depth of his sin and entered into a living purgatory of shame and regret was his heart opened to receive God’s mercy. This step was crucial: acknowledgment of wrongdoing, grief over what has been tainted and destroyed, ownership of one’s sinfulness. Unless we confront the realities of our sins and face our deepest wounds, we will never be able to receive healing. And Alessandro’s revelation of guilt—and thus his pathway to forgiveness—was made possible because of Maria’s purity and steadfast prayer.

Alvar_Cawen_Pieta
Alvar Cawén, Pietà / PD-US

As faithful Catholics who are shocked, saddened, and heartbroken over the recent scandals within the heart of our Church, we are called to step up and be the solution, to challenge the Church to rise up to her sacred calling. Now is the time for prayer and fasting. We will expect from the Church a higher standard, and we will start by being saints. The purification of the Church will begin with the purification of our own souls, by a deep desire for holiness and purity throughout every aspect of our lives. Jesus and Mary weep alongside us at these crimes. I’ve been encouraged by the discussion among young, faithful Catholics of the many ways in which we can carry this out, and I’ve compiled a list of resources here.

I stay with the Church because her teachings proclaim the dignity of the human person, even as some of those who represent her have trampled upon human dignity through objectification and abuse. I pray that we allow the light of truth to overcome the darkness, so that everything hidden will be exposed to the light. The truth of our own dignity and worth—and indeed that of our children—must prevail against the shadows.

Originally published at Frassati Reflections.

Just Another “Halloween Debate” Article

halloween comic characters

Photo Credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=26899

 

I never had a clear position on whether Catholics can celebrate Halloween. On the one hand, most Halloween parties I have been to were just good, clean, spooky fun. Furthermore, I have a legitimate reason to celebrate Halloween: I was born on that day.

On the other hand, I see merit in the views that Halloween has links with the demonic, that Halloween parties can increase children’s threshold of tolerance for evil, and that it is better to pay attention to All Saints’ Day.

One reason I find it hard to decide whether celebrating Halloween is a good idea for Catholics is that there are diverse ways of doing it. There are those who observe what I call “hard core” Halloween, whose Halloween activities include tarot readings, Ouija board, and spirit of the glass. For others, Halloween is merely an occasion for scary stories, coupled with the fun of wearing costumes of all kinds and collecting candy – and, for those in northern countries, enjoying autumn weather. And yes, there are those who prefer to celebrate Halloween with saints-themed costume parties.

Obviously, no Catholic should have anything to do with the “hard core” Halloween celebrations. Obviously, too, saints-themed costumed parties are a wonderful idea, and not just for children – I sometimes wonder how a saint-themed costumed party for adults would turn out.

What about those whose Halloween celebrations fall somewhere in between – not “hard core” but not saints-themed either?

I believe that within the limits imposed by the Catholic Church – e.g., no real witchcraft, fortune-telling, divination, and other similar activities, and no exposing oneself unnecessarily to proximate occasions of sin – the question of whether to hold a Halloween party, and how to do it, rests on the prudential judgment of every individual Catholic, especially parents who have to decide these questions for their children. Personally, I would not require parents to bring their children to a saints-themed party, but at the same time, I respect parents who do not think a traditional Halloween party is good idea. After all, parents are the best judges of their children’s capacity to distinguish pretend-play from reality, their children’s vulnerability to Halloween spookiness, as well as how much spookiness to allow. Thus, for example, in planning the decorations, parents may decide that cotton cobwebs, plastic bats, and jack-o-lanterns are okay while fake bloody corpses are not. In planning their children’s costumes, parents may decide to allow some scary costumes like vampires and witches, but draw the line at devil costumes.

Still, the question lingers: is it appropriate at all for a Catholic to enjoy Halloween spookiness? By dressing up as frightening beings, putting up horror houses, and having fun scaring others, are we not glorifying evil even if we do not actually dabble in dark arts?

I think that to answer this question, distinctions must be made between glorifying evil and merely mimicking it. We must also remember that evil is a reality, and for us to deny that it is so facilitates, rather than hinders, the victory of evil.

For some, Halloween may be an occasion for dangerously mingling with evil. But for others, it could also be a healthy reminder of the spiritual warfare that we wage our entire lives. We comfortably and conveniently forget it, but throughout the entire year, and not just on October 31st, we must battle against forces dragging us to hell. We need the reminder that these forces are real, that they are scary, but that at the same time, we can fight and defeat them. In fact, we honor the victors every year on November 1st.

all saints

Photo credit: http://imagegator.net/free-clip-art-for-all-saints-day/9

Certainly All Saints’ Day is more important than Halloween. On All Saints’ Day, we honor those who have won their battles against evil, and we recall what will be in store for us if we, too, win ours. But Halloween can remind us of what we must fight against if we want to be saints. In this way, Halloween spookiness has its role to play in our lives as Catholics.

Meanwhile, as long as they avoid sin and practice prudence, there is no reason Catholics cannot enjoy themselves on October 31st of each year in the manner they choose.

Dick Smith Foods, Microsoft & Cooperation in Evil

In 1999 Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith created Dick Smith Foods to provide Australian owned and produced alternatives to the increasing number of foreign owned products. In a number of cases Dick Smith’s determination to support local growers has seen factories reopened, jobs saved and family security restored. Since it began, Dick Smith Foods has given all its profits – some $5.1 million – to over 350 community based charities including the Salvation Army, the Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Sharing Dick Smith’s desire to support and sustain Australian farmers, I recently put a post on my Facebook page promoting Dick Smith Foods and encouraging people to buy their products. While I usually enjoy a good debate, I was surprised to see one take place beneath my post, with a number of people commenting that they wouldn’t support Dick Smith Foods because of the man’s enthusiasm for national and international population reduction targets.

Now while I don’t agree with his assessment on the population issue (I actually wrote an article on the myth of overpopulation some months ago), it can sometimes be imprudent to reject the good being done in one instance because of a negative aspect in another. Especially in the case of Dick Smith Foods the profits and ideals of the company have nothing to do directly with issues of population control. It is all good and well to stand up to the immorality of the usual ‘life issues’, abortion, contraception, euthanasia etc., but we shouldn’t do that at the expense of not standing up to the immorality of other justice issues such as the right to have a job, earn a fair wage and feed ones family. If we pray for the life of unborn babies on Sunday but don’t support justice for working adults on Monday are we completely balanced?

We all should have an interest though in where the money we spend on food and household items is being funnelled. For many years now a major pro-life institution in the USA has produced an annual listing of the companies that use their profits to support abortion through the massive corporation Planned Parenthood which carries out around 330,000 abortions per year and receives over $500 million in annual government subsidies. Planned Parenthood also receives donations from close to 200 companies that are behind some of the most basic products and services we use every day: Coca-Cola, Kraft, Pepsi, Microsoft, eBay, Levi Strauss, Black & Decker and American Express are just a small handful.

Because we live in what is most evidently a fallen world, the need has long existed to consider how we interact with aspects of that world which do not correspond with our own ethical position. Classical moral theology refers to this interaction as ‘cooperation in evil’ and then draws a very important distinction between formal and material cooperation. Formal cooperation occurs when we deliberately cooperate with the immoral actions of another person or institution and share in that evil intention. Sending a cheque to support the work of your local abortion clinic would be formal cooperation in evil and is always wrong. Material cooperation on the other hand is when we may cooperate with the immoral actions of another person or institution but do not share in their evil intention. Using Microsoft products (so long as they are not pirated) or drinking Coca-Cola comes under material cooperation. In the realm of material cooperation, moral theologians have all sorts of distinctions, the general idea being that the greater the degree of our material cooperation, the greater the proportionate reason should be for us allowing such cooperation. If all the major toothpaste suppliers support abortion, there is a sufficiently proportionate reason to still buy toothpaste.

Dealing with issues of cooperation in evil is something each person will personally have to contend with continuously throughout life. There is no doubt that we all need to be wary of supporting products and services that are contrary to upright moral behaviour. However, we must also ensure we do not become overly righteous at the expense of what is genuinely good. The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath because he healed a man on a day dedicated to prayer and rest. Jesus’ response to them was “Which of you, if his son or ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, would not pull him out without hesitation?” The task of discerning good from evil is not always as obvious as we might like it to be.

Copyright 2015, Bernard Toutounji

Slender Man Stabbing: Five Things You Can Do

Slender Man
Slender Man graffiti on a sidewalk Source: Flickr Creative Commons

The news is full of violence. It is hard not to become desensitized to the terrible ways humans treat humans. A recent story that really tore at my heart was the stabbing of a 12-year-old girl by two of her friends of the same age.

The two girls, Morgan and Anissa, say they plotted the murder because they were mesmerized by a ghoulish character called Slender Man who appears in horror stories on a site called Creepypasta and in memes all over the Internet. The girls believed the demonic character was real and plotted to kill one of their friends in homage to him so that they could become his followers. So Morgan and Anissa lured a classmate into a park and stabbed her 19 times. Thankfully it looks like the young girl will survive the attack.

All over the Internet, people are hypothesizing about what caused this tragic event. Are the girls mentally ill? Are they psychopaths? I am not sure anyone will ever have satisfactory answers. However, I could not help but be struck by the reminder of the reality of evil that is present in this incident. It is one reason that I am glad to see Pope Francis making so many references to Satan’s existence and influence today.

Aside from the natural circumstances coupled with sin that lead to tragic situations like this, there is also the reality of evil influences in our lives. Satan takes all circumstances and tries to bring out of them the moral worst-case scenario. This is one case where it seems evil won the day, although God, in keeping with his nature and his power, will bring good from this evil situation.

The question that I am always left with when reading about these tragic stories is: What can I do?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Donate to the
  2. Pray for the victim and her family, for their psychological recovery as well as the victim’s physical recovery.
  3. Pray for Anissa, Morgan and their grieving parents. Pray that justice will be done but that the girls will also receive the help they so obviously need.
  4. If you are a parent, godparent, or responsible adult with children in your life, keep track of their Internet usage, talk to them about their interests and pray for them often!  (The St. Michael prayer every day would be a good one.)
  5. Live in reparation for the evil that is present in media. This is part of the charism of my religious order. The Daughters of St. Paul promote good media and live in reparation for bad media. But this isn’t only for nuns. It is something that we all can do. Offer sacrifices and penance for the effects that bad media can have on our children and society at large.

Sometimes it can seem like the bad in the media and in the world is a deluge whereas the good is just a few small raindrops. But the truth is that our faith is rooted in the power of Jesus who was born in a manger and died on a cross. Our little attempts to bring good into the world of media and into society have the power to reap huge harvests.

Evil always looks overwhelming, just as it did on the day Jesus died on the cross. But it never wins.

Peace to all of you.

Who are We Fighting For?

I recently saw a status on Facebook from someone working in the pro-life movement. It was about how the pro-life movement isn’t a cause; it’s a battle. As pro-lifers we must, therefore, “fight the pro-aborts to win.”

My first response was “ok, yeah, it’s a spiritual battlefield.” However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought: I don’t think the enemy is who you think it is. It’s not an “us versus them” battle.

We’re not fighting against pro-“choicers.”

We are fighting for them.

The nature of evil is to destroy the person imposing the evil on others. If that’s the case, then we are fighting for their minds and souls, which have been so viciously contorted and twisted. This means that there is a tragedy to abortion that is gravely overlooked.

The tragedy of abortion is that, yes, it brutally murders innocent children and uses and abuses women in the process. I never want to undermine the evil of such acts and the harm it inflicts in those people’s lives. It goes against the very dignity of the victimized human person – both born and unborn.

However, where evil – where abortion – triumphs, is in the heart of the one committing the evil act. While the victim is harmed, the soul of the person doing the harm is lost.

That is the underlying horror in any evil act.

That is the evil of abortion.

In the act of killing someone innocent, the life of the innocent person is lost. In the case of abortion, without the chance for baptism, which is another grave matter. However, I can’t believe in a God who would send those children to Hell simply because, through no fault of their own, they were not baptized.

So, while abortion takes from them the great gift of life, it also robs the pro-“choicer” of a gift: the gift of his soul and the consequential possibility of eternal happiness in Heaven with our Lord. One man loses his life. Another loses his soul.

Think of it this way. Soldiers are in a war, and one of their buddies is taken prisoner by the enemy. The soldiers are not going to leave their friend in the grips of this evil. They want to rescue him – he is one of them and he belongs with them. They love him. So, they go to rescue him.

Now imagine for a moment that when the rescuers finally get into camp and try to rescue their friend, they find out that he’s joined ranks with the enemy. Now he fights with them. The enemy poisoned his mind against the good and, in so doing, forced him to fight for the evil side he recently stood against.

The pain of his friends must be almost worse than if the enemy had just killed him outright. Now he’s not dead. He’s not missing. He’s lost. He has not only changed sides, he has lost his identity in the process.

The battle now is not one that they wage against their friend, though they continue to fight the enemy. Rather, the battle is now one that they wage for their friend. They fight the enemy with renewed vigor because they must rescue their friend – not just physically, but mentally as well.

That is how we must see our pro-“choice” brethren. They are not our enemies. They are the complete opposite. They are our friends, taken hostage by the Evil One who has poisoned their minds against the side of life, light, and goodness.

We must fight for them and try to bring them back to the light. We must mourn the fact that they are not dead, but are lost instead.

We will be accountable for that one day. When we get to the pearly gates and St. Peter asks us “where are the lost sheep?” what will we say? “Oh, I dunno, but see all the babies I saved!”?

We must remember what it means to be on the side of life. Everyone alive is a beloved child of God: planned, willed, made out of love by the One Who is love. Everyone alive – no matter what evil he has committed – is capable of being forgiven and loved by the Lord Who created the universe. God desires those people.

If God loves, misses, and calls for them, then we must do so as well. We must do so because Christ longs for them. We are Christ’s feet, hands, eyes, voice. We are the tools He uses to search for His lost sheep. If we do not search for our lost brethren, if we do not mourn them, how will they ever hear of the promise of redemption that Christ gives them?

The battle isn’t between pro-lifers and pro-“choicers.” The battle is between pro-lifers and the Evil One. Pro-“choicers” are what the battle is being fought over – the pawn the Evil One uses for his deadly work. Only when we rescue our pro-“choice” brothers and sisters will the killing stop.

We are fighting against the Evil One who has taken our brethren hostage and we will be accountable for that some day. We may not save them all, but we must be able to say that we tried.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36), and what does it profit the pro-lifer to save all the babies, but lose the pro-“choicers” in the process?