The “mystery of evil”

George Weigel

In his Holy Thursday letter to priests, Pope John Paul II described clergy sexual abuse as an expression of the “mystery of evil” at work in the world. Some columnists scoffed that the Pope was evading the issue. In fact, he was cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

Unlike religions that fudge the problem of evil by describing it as an illusion or a negation, Christianity does not deny the reality of evil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church faces the problem squarely: “…why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power, God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world ‘in a state of journeying’ toward its ultimate perfection” (310).

In other words, God created a world of freedom. In a world of freedom, things can and do go wrong. God’s answer to that hard truth was to enter the world, in the person of his Son, to redeem the world of its evil and restore creation to its true trajectory — the path that leads to eternal life within the light and love of the Trinity.

The mystery of evil remains. But the mystery of evil is transformed, in ways sometimes difficult to discern, by God’s saving acts in history. The Catechism again: “We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God ‘face to face’ [1 Corinthians 13.12], will we fully know the ways by which — even through the dramas of evil and sin — God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest [cf. Genesis 2.2] for which he created heaven and earth” (314).

The Christian answer to evil, and to the fear that evil engenders, is the cross of Jesus Christ. There, the Son of God took all the evil and fear of history onto himself, offering them to God in a perfect act of obedience. God’s answer to that obedient act of radical, self-giving love was given on Easter Sunday, in the resurrection of Christ. Embracing the cross of Christ in baptism and being born again into his resurrection, we, too, are empowered to live beyond evil. Christians do not deny fear. Because of Christ, Christians can live beyond fear.

The omnipresent brutality and violent death of the mid-twentieth century led many European intellectuals to despair about the human future — to the conviction that life is absurd, a constant struggle for power in which the weak are ground into the dust by the unscrupulous and the strong. Ideas have consequences, and what the philosophers taught and the novelists wrote about eventually seeped into the general culture, leading to all sorts of dehumanizing behavior: the abuse of alcohol and drugs; sexual promiscuity; crass consumerism, in which “having more” is identified with “being more;” the manipulation of others for our pleasure or convenience. Pope John Paul II has sometimes described these behaviors as a “culture of death.”

The Christian answer to the culture of death is not optimism, but hope. Hope adds a further dimension to the Christian understanding of the mystery of evil: Christians believe that God, through his providence, will always bring good out of evil and meaning out of meaninglessness. Christian hope is a virtue, a virtue grounded in faith. Faith is the ultimate antidote to despair. And Christian faith is founded on Jesus Christ, who faces the evil of the world and conquers it through his cross and resurrection.

Faith in God’s victory over evil is a truth to be believed. The Catholic Church in America today must believe that God has given us this time of Calvary for a purpose. That purpose, I suggest, is the authentic reform of the Church according to the teaching of Vatican II as authoritatively interpreted by the pontificate of John Paul II.

What seems like a time of endless humiliation is, in truth, a time of purification — if all the people of the Church take the opportunity of this crisis to lead more intentionally, thoroughly Catholic lives.

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!