The Evil That We Do, and Evil That We Think

Why is there evil in this world? Why does God allow evil? Why don’t we live in Paradise?

The answer is free will. God loves us so much that he allows us to decide. As we read in the Book of Sirach, “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” (Sirach 15:17)

A rock cannot decide to be a bad rock; a tree cannot decide to be a bad tree. We can decide to be bad people. Because we can decide to be bad we can also be good, in some cases very good.

Because of free will we can have Gandhi and the two new saints this year, John Paul II and, my inspiration as a young man, John XXIII. Gandhi, John Paul II, and John XXIII made a choice to live as if they were in heaven. So can you. You can choose the right way or the wrong way. You can even choose the wrong way and change your mind afterwards.

If you choose the right way don’t half step it; give it your all. Half stepping is a concept I learned from AA. My best teachers were recovered alcoholics. Half stepping is not giving it your all. Half stepping doesn’t work. Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

The Pharisees were great ones for rules, and rightly so, as rules are very important. The ten big rules, the Ten Commandments, tell us how to live our lives: to not kill, steal, or commit adultery. But this is a minimum. God wants a maximum. Just following rules encourages minimal behavior. Some Catholics have this minimal thinking.

Deacon Jim Rutledge told a story about a man who wanted to follow the rules on fasting and abstinence for Lent. Now the rules state that you should have one regular meal, and that the other two meals should not together exceed the regular meal (without eating between meals). So Jim’s friend had a 3 course breakfast, a five course lunch, and a 2 course dinner on Ash Wednesday. He may have obeyed the letter of the law, but he missed the spirit of sacrifice.

If you go for Jesus go big. Here is what Jesus says about this: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….” (Matthew 5:21-22)

So don’t say, “I haven’t killed any body so I am good.” Rather, ask where murder comes from. It comes from anger, rage, and resentment. So ask yourself: do you hold grudges? Do you hold resentments? Resentments are really sins against yourself. Resentments are acids that eat away your soul, and leave you sad and miserable.

Now there are different kinds of anger. The fleeting anger that is part of family life is different than resentment. That anger lasts a minute and then is forgotten. The grudge, the feeling of hatred, that is what lasts, and can, and has, led to murder.

Don’t half step! Address those feelings, and, with the help of Christ, turn resentment into reconciliation.

Jesus also said this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) So you can’t say “Wow, I am golden! I haven’t slept with another man’s wife or another woman’s husband. Where is my medal?” Or, maybe, “I am a virgin. Where is my medal?” But where do adultery and lust come from? They come from objectifying the other person.  

In our magazines we get an idealized view of other people. Models are fussed over by expert beauticians. Their photos are made to optimize their appearance, and make them far more beautiful than they really are. Nowhere in the pictures we are looking at do we find the real person. Is the person caring? Is the person a good mother or father? Is the person a talented athlete or musician? Is the person highly intelligent? All of these questions are far more important than the illusion on the page of the magazine.

Jesus challenges you to exchange love for lust. I often challenge people who come to me for marriage prep by saying, “Can you live with this person for the next 60 years? In the next 60 years their outward youthful beauty will go. Is their inner beauty enough for you?”

Jesus challenges us to pull out the weeds of anger, lust, greed, and all the bad parts, and instead plant flowers of love, peace, and joy. Follow Jesus, go deep inside yourself, and don’t half step.

Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.