“I think to myself, ‘I, too, could be here.’ That is, none of us can be sure that we would never commit a crime, something for which we’d be put in prison. They haven’t had the opportunities that I have had of not doing something stupid and ending up in prison. This makes me cry inside. It is deeply moving.”
– Pope Francis
Every time I read this quote, I too am moved. Not because it is from the Pope, or inspired by the Holy Spirit, but because it is so simple, so plain, and so true. I’ve had to come back to this quote quite often recently as I’ve tried to understand, again, why people do the evil things they do to others, and to themselves. And as I was preparing for todays readings, I was amazed at the selections for today because they truly spoke to me to help me understand why bad things happen, but also how we can fend off and prevent the bad from engulfing us.
It is all so simple. And so true. Any one of us could be the prisoner. Any one of us could commit the crime.
We look at people in the news lately – Jared Fogle or Josh Duggar just to name a couple. Two people made celebrities here in America by seemingly being “real”. A real person losing a lot of weight while eating healthy and becoming a spokesperson for Subway restaurants and a national celebrity, seeming to use his success and fame for good. And another who was part of a large family who had their own TV show, who people looked up to for showing us good Christian morals in a Godless society, again seeming to use his fame for good. But through recent weeks, Fogle was arrested for child pornography charges/sex with minors, and Duggar has essentially lost his job, his good reputation, and recently entered rehab due to his pornography addiction.
Or we look at the shooting of the reporter and cameraman in Virginia this past week. An act of violence from a former newstation employee who was fired, who lost it and took out his rage in a shooting on live television. And we can go back to Charleston a few weeks ago, and so on… How does this happen?
Unfortunately, they were all too real. This is reality. This is the way of the world. There are countless examples of sin, selfishness, and defilement every day in this country and around the world, all for us to see on TV or online. None of us are immune, and none of us are exempt. Pope Francis goes on to say, “Listen up! Each one of us is capable of doing the same thing done by that man or woman in jail. All of us are capable of sinning and making the same mistake in life. They are not worse than you and I!”
We are all capable – which is why we don’t condone the sin, but we don’t mock and condemn and judge, for only by the grace of God are we given opportunities to not fll into these traps. We don’t condemn and mock – we pray for them, and hurt for them and this world. This could happen to any one of us. Sin is written into our hearts, and as Jesus goes on to say in todays Gospel,
“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
And so as we look at these world events, these bad things happen because it is written into our DNA. Every person has their breaking point. And each one of us breaks in different ways.
When presented with the stress and temptations and trials in society today – the temptation to look at pornography, the temptation to steal and cheat one another or gossip against and condemn someone else, we often give in to those tendencies and vices to fill those voids in our soul thinking that will make us feel better. Once we’ve got the foot in the door, it’s hard to get out.
Or when we endure stresses and oppression and failures so much, sometimes due to things that are out of our control and we are filled with anger and rage and we just can’t take it anymore. Maybe it’s the stress in losing a job in the midst of a bad economy, or trying to do anything we can to provide for our families in the midst of failure after failure, bad break after bad break. Sometimes it’s hard to handle. We are capable of anything. Anything. We’re wired that way. And some give in.
Through the fall of Adam and Eve, a glitch entered our system. It’s like clicking on a bad link in an email and getting a computer virus. It’s part of our operating system now. We now have tendencies to look to worldly pleasures for our fulfillment, to think that we can be our own god, and that we can do whatever we want as long as it makes us happy. And many times, we let the sin get the best of us and we not only hurt ourselves, but hurt countless others, destroying lives. Why does this happen to some people, and not others?
Because of the grace of God.
Were it not for the grace of God, we too could be there. Maybe we are there in other ways. Maybe you are reading this and you too are dealing with an addiction, or fits of anger and rage from time to time. Maybe you’ve let this get out of control and you’ve hurt someone else, or perhaps you have been on the receiving end of this hurt. Perhaps you have a family member or close friend that is dealing with a problem and you’re afraid it could turn into something really bad. What can we do? How can we overcome this defilement that’s embedded within us, and become the true person God wants us to be?
By the grace of God.
Because just as we have sin wired into us, as St. James writes in the second reading today,
“Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.”
Through Jesus and His sacrifice and resurrection, salvation has been planted into our very souls through His love and Word. Again, as I’ve written in past weeks, the biggest and most amazing example of God taking something bad and making something good is with Him sacrificing His son to save us, to right the ship. But we need to take this a step further if we intend to overcome the bad within us and around us – we must “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
We must not only hear God’s word, we must act it out in our daily lives! We must not only hear and believe the doctrines of the Church, we must be also live them out and stand up for our faith. We must not only believe that the Sacraments are God’s grace, but we must take part in them to receive God’s grace.
As Catholics, we must look to the sacraments – especially the Eucharist, confession, and our marriages for the grace that can heal our hearts and get us closer to God.
Too often in the past and today, we’ve chosen to bend the rules and create our own reality. Our own version of Christianity. Our own Catholicism. And when we try to twist them into something that works better for us, we become more distant from that salvation that was planted in our souls. We grow closer to that defilement that is deep within our hearts. And if we continue to run away from God’s grace towards the bad, the worse it will become.
But there is hope. There is God’s Grace. Were it not for His Grace, this world would be even worse. It may be hard to see that. But for every evil that is done in this world, God performs infinitely more good. There is so much good yet in this world! God works through people according to His will, according to His plan. It may not make the evening news or be in the headlines on CNN, but His grace is everywhere – we just need to look for it. I see it everyday. For by the grace of God, we can overcome, and perhaps one day, we can understand.
And it’s this very fact that is so simple. For such a complex world, and a complex faith, with complex problems, the answer is so simple. People are inherently good. But yet, we also have a sinfulness built within in. God provided a list of rules to live by, and a means by which to live them and act in society, so that we get to Heaven. Ten perfect rules that Jesus condensed to two. Love God, and love one another.
We are capable of so much bad, but we are capable of so much more good. Even when something bad happens, we can choose how we react. It’s all in the choices we make. But we must look to do so in the grace of God so that we don’t give in to what we are capable of. Look to the grace of God to get you through.