The Mystery of Evil

The Mystery of Evil

If a stranger said something unkind or insulting to you, you’d probably be irritated or annoyed, but you’d brush off the encounter and soon forget about it. However, if instead a family member or friend made that same unkind or insulting remark, it would hurt a lot more, and be much harder to let go of and ignore. People whom we carry in our hearts have a greater ability to harm us emotionally than those outside our circle of loved ones. In the same way, the Church can suffer greatly at the hands of her enemies, but the worst harm is caused by traitors from within, or by those who seemed to belong to her but then turned against her. Jesus was hurt more by Judas’ betrayal than by the hostility of His enemies, and His Church has suffered more from the sins of her members than from the attacks of her persecutors. The clergy sexual abuse scandal is a perfect example of this; the inexcusable crimes of priests and bishops who turned out to be false shepherds and even wolves in disguise have surely angered Our Lord and caused great pain and distress among His faithful people. It’s no mystery why this world despises the Church: the Gospel shines the light of truth on this world’s sins, and so evildoers hate the light and those who share it. It’s much harder for us to understand why persons who once shared in God’s light and love, and lived as part of His people, later chose to commit deeds of darkness. This is part of the mystery of evil—and because of original sin, which all people have inherited, none of us is exempt or preserved from the possibility of turning away from Jesus and rejecting His truth and love. Evil lives among us, and to some degree, within us—but God’s grace and mercy can conquer the evil in our world and in our hearts, if only we place our trust in Him.

The earliest Christians wrestled with the problem of evil: how was it possible that some of the Church’s members fell back into sin, or even completely turned against her? Some scholars believe St. Matthew deliberately included the parable of the weeds among the wheat in response to these concerns. Just as the weeds and wheat grew together, so there can be false Christians among the members of the Church—persons who only pretend to serve Jesus, but who in fact are serving themselves. Satan delights in such people, for he can use and manipulate them to undermine the Church from within, seeking to cause scandal and division while leading other believers astray. Why does God allow this? The reason for His patience is simple: He wants to give sinners every possible chance to repent and be saved. Just as the Church’s history includes stories of traitors and false Catholics, so it also includes cases of deathbed conversions. A tiny mustard seed can become a great shrub; a tiny amount of goodness in a sinful heart can lead to repentance. As the Book of Wisdom says, God gives His children good ground to hope in the possibility of sinners repenting, and as St. Paul teaches in his Letter to the Romans, the Holy Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, interceding for God’s people—including those who’ve gone astray.   

In 1917 Our Lady appeared to three children outside the town of Fatima in Portugal and made a number of predictions, all of which came true—including the death of two of the three children a few years later. The Church investigated the apparitions, and declared them to be “worthy of belief,” or authentic. The third visionary, Lucia, became a religious sister and promoted the message of Fatima—prayer and penance for the conversion of sinners—until her death in 2005. Back in 1957, sixty years after Our Lady’s appearances, Sister Lucia warned of what she called a time of “diabolical disorientation”—a period in which the devil would succeed in causing much division and confusion in the Church. This began after the Second Vatican Council, when the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” led to wide-scale changes in parishes, schools, seminaries, convents, and Catholic universities that were never actually authorized by the Council. Thousands of priests and nuns abandoned their sacred vocations—many because they had stopped praying. A lack of prayer also no doubt played a role in most of the clergy sexual abuse cases; Catholics who do not pray are easily led astray. Further evidence of diabolical disorientation in today’s Church include the growing shortage of priests; God continues to call young men, but many have become too worldly to pursue their vocation. Also, millions of former Catholics have abandoned the Church, either joining another denomination lacking true Sacraments and teaching authority, or abandoning religion altogether. Even among those who still belong to the One True Church, many pick and choose which of the Church’s teachings and practices they’ll follow, and a large percentage no longer believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. We also see bishops and cardinals publicly disagreeing with and opposing each other on matters of faith and morals—a further sign of diabolical disorientation (one Our Lady predicted in 1973 at the Church-approved apparitions at Akita, Japan).

Satan is busy sowing his seeds of division, doubt, and spiritual destruction among the wheat of God’s people, and so it would be easy to give into despair. However, we must remember what Jesus said about the mustard seed. There are many wonderful signs that the Holy Spirit is powerfully and fruitfully at work in the Church today, with millions of Catholics, young and old, more committed to following Jesus than ever before. In 1947 Mother Teresa left the comfort and safety of her convent to teach poor children in the slums of Calcutta; this small beginning eventually led to millions of lives being inspired and improved by the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity. God is able to take something very small and turn it into something spiritually great, despite the weakness of our human nature and the opposition of the devil and his servants in this world.

This same dynamic can occur in our own lives; our simple willingness to trust in God, and our efforts to obey Him in all things, great and small, allows Him to be at work within us in marvelous and unexpected ways. Yes, there is diabolical disorientation in the Church and in the world; many weeds are scattered in and among the wheat, and a tendency toward sin is to be found in each of our own hearts. However, God’s grace can overcome all satan’s evil works and deceptions, and help every one of us travel the path of holiness. All we have to do is humble ourselves in the Lord’s sight, while trusting in His promise that one day we will shine like the sun in our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom.   

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper