Thursday, December 26, 2013

Evil People

By the might of Thy arm, may these blasphemers who come against Thy holy people be struck down.
 -- 2Macc 15:24
- - - - - - - - - -
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
- - Luke 23:34
And he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
- - Acts 7:60
Today marks the feast day of St. Stephen, the first martyr, on the Catholic calendar of saints.  The last quote above is from him.  The good priest this morning noted in his short sermon one of the many significant things about this day.  This feast day he said, placed right after the birthday of Jesus, reminds us what a break Jesus and the New Testament were from the Old.  In many places of the Old Testament people prayed to God to strike down their enemies --- He was seen as a God of power, a warrior.  But in the New Testament Jesus, and then His followers, said: “Forgive them,” even to the point of forgiving those who are about to kill them.
The Catholic Church practices this message: to love your enemies, to forgive them, to pray for them.  You heard it this week when Pope Francis called for us to pray for atheists, and you saw it when he went down among the poor.  He is the leader of a great church; he has people at his beck and call; he doesn’t have to do things like that.  But he does, even if it is hard.
More locally, we see this message played out each day in our own churches, when the so-called Prayers of the Faithful are prayed during mass.  Then we are asked to pray for our Church and church leaders, and we do.  We are asked to pray for people in need, and we do. And we are asked to pray for our president and government leaders, and we do.  Even if those same government leaders might be condemning us for our beliefs, even if they are encouraging us to sin, even if they mock us or even have us fired from our jobs.  And still we pray for them.
Christmas Day for some families was a great trial, as THAT family member or THAT neighbor came to the house or even the dinner table, and acted THAT way.  We try not to, be we would like to broadcast to the world: “They are evil people!”  But we don’t (usually).  We bear up with them; we keep the family peace, especially on Christmas Day, but our heart roils.  But that too we must stifle, must change, and not just on Christmas Day.  Even if these people are by all reasonable definitions, evil people, still we must forgive them, even as Jesus and St. Stephen gave witness by their actions.  And we must pray for them.  It is what we are called to do, no matter how hard, if we are to call ourselves followers of Christ.
I know this is no easy thing.  Do you REALLY think it was easy for Jesus or Stephen to say that prayer for people about to kill them?  None of the people YOU would call evil are going to kill you (or at least it’s not likely), but what they will try to do --- very deliberately in some cases --- is to kill your spirit.  They will, by their actions, encourage you to give up:  “The situation is hopeless.”  But it is not.
Go back and read the words of Jesus again --- all of them.  “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.  That is the key to helping you to gain the strength to really follow Jesus in this difficult task.  They know not what they do.  You may think, indeed you may KNOW, that they are evil people, but the truth of the matter is that they don’t.  They don’t think they are evil.  It is an extremely rare person who would ever say that “I am an evil person.”  No one believes that of themselves; everyone believes that they are good, or at least that they try to do good.  They sincerely believe this, and if you challenge them they will defend their actions as good or reasonable.  Your telling them that they are evil, or acting toward them as if they were, will, in their minds make YOU seem as evil.  Just as you see them doing what is contrary to what is right and so you think them evil, they will think with the same logic of you.  Hating, acting out, telling someone that they are evil will not change them, nor will doing so to satisfy our anger really satisfy our anger.  Hating evil and letting evil roil our insides hurts only us, changes only us. 
You look to understand the Scriptures and understand Jesus.  Can’t you see this most basic thing, love one another, that He proclaims in His words and actions?  And the first step towards loving another is to forgive your grievances against them.  Go read the words in Matthew.  There it says that before you go into the church, to go and forgive your brother if he has something against you, AND THEN it says in another place to go to him and be reconciled if YOU have something against him.  It doesn’t matter who is at fault, YOU are called to seek reconciliation, to seek and/or give forgiveness.  And if the reconciliation is not accepted, despite the offered forgiveness, then Matthew explains that you are justified in staying away from them, justified in avoiding evil. 
There are some churches in the world now which preach that when you see evil you must go out and kill it.  That is a major difference with the Catholic Church.  Jesus said He came to heal sinners, which started with forgiveness.  The people of His day couldn’t understand how He could do this: “Why do you eat with sinners?”  But He explains: “This is why I came.”   The Roman historians looked at the Catholic community and were confused: “See how they love one another.”  This was as big change in the ways of the world.
Each day at mass we pray these words before communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.  But only say the words, and my soul shall be healed.”   We are asking for forgiveness, before we seek unity with Him.  As I walked back to the pew after receiving Holy Communion this morning, that prayer echoed again in my head, and I heard a response there: “I’ll come anyway.” 
I may not be worthy, but He will come anyway.
That terrible relative, that troublesome neighbor, that stupid boss, that child who acts like he is deaf, that slow car in front of you, that guy who stole your parking space, that person who grabbed the last item on sale this morning.  Forgive them anyway.
There will always be evil in the world, and evil people.  You don’t need to announce it; you don’t need to be mad over it.  No matter how much those people bother you, you can put up with them --- even, if necessary up to death.
We were shown how.  Now we just need to willpower to act on what we were shown, and what we know and believe.  There is no: “But I can’t do that.”  Others that are far more important you have done it, even to death.  Are you more important than they?  Or can’t you accept, in faith, that they wouldn’t have shown you how to forgive, if they didn’t think you could.
I say again, in reminder: do not be anxious.

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