Good and Evil in a Plate of Spaghetti

Suddenly last week I was confronted by a very complex problem.  Even in the beginning, I could not see a clear “right-wrong” decision.  The difference in what was good and what was evil was muddled.  As I sought spiritual advice, prayed, reflected, and lived out the situation, it got more and more complex.  In the end, I was not satisfied by the solution I chose.  It was not an unjust, evil solution, but it was also not a fully just and good one.

Often, when I work with such complex problems with couples and families, I describe the dilemma as a plate of spaghetti.  When you take spaghetti noodles out of the box, each one is straight and easily separated.  But, once the noodles are cooked and mixed with some sauce, they are all tangled in a pile on your plate.

So are many problems we face.  They are plates of spaghetti where you have to pull things apart, one strand at a time, in order to consider what to do.  Even then, there is the influence of the sauce and other spaghetti strands. No matter what, you can’t put the spaghetti back in the box. Issues of honesty, mercy, human limitation, wounds from the past, selfishness in the present, fears for the future, etc, etc, etc, complicate the hope of a simple, fully good and just decision for all.

We do not live in a Christian culture.  Norms of government, medicine, business, media, heroes, and “what everybody else is doing” do not match the standards of Jesus or Church.  Our strands of spaghetti are mixed in with those of multiple opposing points of view.

How do we then live as Christians? In today’s first reading, St. Paul gives us some advice:  learn to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.  Paul says, “The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.  Among men, who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within?  Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.”

How do we access this Spirit and know that it is the Spirit of God who directs us?  In our plate of spaghetti world that can be very difficult.  St. Paul tells us today that a foundation for such discernment comes from first understanding that the Spirit of God is necessarily different from the spirit of the world.  “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.”

This is not what comes naturally—to us or to the world.  Paul goes on to say, “Now the natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.”  We cannot expect the evening newscasters or competing politicians to match the Holy Spirit.  We cannot expect them to think with a Christian conscience.  We cannot expect those we encounter in business affairs or even family matters to act from a Christian perspective.  Sometimes we can’t trust that such choices will come naturally to us.

Nonetheless, we can and should expect that of ourselves.  Today’s selection from 1 Corinthians concludes, “But we have the mind of Christ.”

What is the mind of Christ?

That is the important question.  We seek answers to it in many ways—including reading or writing for A Catholic Moment.

There are also clues in today’s Gospel.  The reading is from Luke, in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum and speaks on the Sabbath.  People are amazed at the “authority” with which He speaks.  His authority elicits expression of evil in a man “with a spirit of an unclean demon.”  The demon cries out in a very prophetic way, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Yes, Christ did come to ultimately destroy evil in the Final Judgement.  For the present, though, He came to deliver us from evil—to take it away from us. The catechism says, “By his Passion, Christ delivered us from Satan and from sin.  He merited for us the new life in the Holy Spirit.  His grace restores what sin had damaged in us.” (CCC 1708)

In the Gospel today Jesus delivers the man with the unclean spirit from its evil.  “Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm.”

The mind of Christ is conversion: to deliver us from evil by giving us His mind.  His mind seeks to overcome evil by standing firm against it by doing good. His mind is the Wisdom of the Cross. His mind is both mercy and justice.

The effects of evil create complex situations, plates of spaghetti.  In my dilemma, the solution I chose would have been a more just and merciful solution if people had cooperated and accepted it.  They did not.  Then what was I to do?  In retrospect, my fault was in the beginning of the endeavor.  I should have set things up differently. I should have had the mind of Christ from the beginning. I should have worked from the mix of mercy and justice which is the order of God.

I did not.  I hope to change that in the future. In the meantime, I learned a lot last week—about subtleties of evil in my own mind, in my failures to pay attention, in my blindness to my own sin, in the way I mentally resist facing evil in subtle disguise.  I had a large lesson in humility.  I am grateful for God’s mercy, patience, and conversion.

The nugget I have kept from my plate of spaghetti dilemma is this:  God’s greatest mercy is conversion. Conversion creates the order of God. Judging from the immediate results,  I did nothing last week to convert the world. Yet God did a lot last week to convert me—again.  For each time I am converted, I put on more of the mind of Christ. I live more in the order of God.

Because Father, Son, and Spirit are One, the mind of Christ in me is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit can help me untangle my plate of spaghetti to enable me (eventually) to line up with Christ.

That is also true for you.

If we keep on doing this again and again, we will be the hands and feet of Christ today overcoming evil.  We will create the order of God in our corner of the world.

This week’s meditation concludes a series on how we face the many evils that jump out at us like the demon in today’s Gospel.  Generally, what I have learned from writing is this:

  • Evil is the absence of good. It is an integral part of life, part of God’s ever developing creation.  It also comes from sin:  original sin, sins of others, our own sin.  At the core of sinful evil is pride—creatures believing they know more than God.
  • Christ overcame evil once and for all by His passion, death, and resurrection. This victory God continues to give us by accompanying us when we experience evil and enabling us to bring good from evil.
  • God’s way to overcome evil ever present in the world does not include using the methods of evil. God overcomes evil by goodness, which is the Wisdom of the Cross. In ordinary life, this is the simple way Christians live lives of virtue to create Fruits of the Spirit. God means for this goodness to cover the earth—like the dew. Our own efforts to counter evil with goodness are part of His plan.
  • Eventually the evils of sin with its injustice will be judged and punished by God. In the meantime, our job is to keep on doing good and to be open to the goodness in the midst of evil which God seeks to give us.
  • We can know the good to receive and to do by putting on the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ in us is the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer:

Lord, this day, every day, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. Amen.

Link to today’s readings: 1 Corinthians 2: 10b-16; from Psalm 145; Luke 4:31-37

About the Author

Mary Ortwein lives in Frankfort, Kentucky in the US. Her time is divided between volunteer work at her home parish, Good Shepherd, and supervision in a non-profit mental health agency. In her writing Mary combines learning from her study of prayer and theology and learning from her practical work experience. At different times in her life Mary has been an elementary and college teacher, a full-time wife and mother, founder of prolife service agencies, an in-home family therapist, and a writer of relationship and mental health curriculum. The mental health agency Mary currently directs focuses on training young professionals and providing mental health services to those who otherwise might not have access to them. In her parish Mary works in Respect Life, ministry to the homebound and elderly, evangelization, and is a member of a very active prayer group. A convert to Catholicism in 1969, Mary has not always been strong in the practice of her faith. After a re-conversion in 2010 she earned a theology degree from St. Meinrad School of Theology in 2015. She now looks for ways to foster her own faith and the faith of others.

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10 Comments

  1. It is St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition, used in the catechism. I used it because a lot of Catholic theology uses that definition.
    Mary

  2. Hey Mary,

    I do enjoy reading your reflections. You tackle some difficult questions.

    Defining something by an absence is difficult. It is like saying beauty is is the absence of of ugly. Well that depends on what you think is ugly. That example can be applied to good and evil which, in turn, can be applied to moral relativism.

    No?

    Mark

  3. Your reflection comes very timely as my plate of spaghetti in a certain situation is so tangled I cannot see my way to the Lord’s solution. So I am choosing to do nothing in response to an attack of evil. This is so contrary to my ever controlling self. I have chosen to wait upon the Lord and realize that I am not – as Sister Ann Shields points out – the VP of creation. I just don’t know what to do. Please pray for me

  4. We persist in praying, “Lord lead us not into evil…”. Why? Is it the poetry? It is convoluted, and distorts your message of the Spitit.

  5. I have come to look forward to Tuesday mornings in anticipation of your reflections ever since your reelection on love and mercy never being wasted.

    The plate of speghetti analogy is very timely to me personally. I face large, complex decisions influenced by all the factors you mentioned. In my current confusion it does not seem possible to find any solution that will be fully just and good. But I will spend time trying to listen to the Spirit. I will try to find a mix of mercy and justice that comes from the mind of Christ and not my own tainted views that cover the speghetti. I will seek conversion when my decisions do not untangle the speghetti as I hoped.
    Thank you for sharing what the Spirit has shown you.

  6. Mary, I love your spaghetti analogy.
    A problem I have is I do expect the evening newscasters and competing politicians to have Christian moral values. Obviously, I am frustrated they don’t. Someday? The same with those I encounter in business affairs, but here I have a choice and exercise it. Family can be a big heap of spaghetti! Thanks,
    RL

  7. Your reflections are such a gift to those searching for holiness as God wants from each of us. Through your conversions we in turn learn what we must do to be converted and to trust and believe in God’s justice and mercy.
    Thank you so much,
    Margene

  8. Thanks Mary for sharing God’s word with us! What’s in the mind of Christ? That’s a good question, what would Jesus do? In our saucy spaghetti bowl of life, going back in the box is not really easy. I guess discerning God’s will for us requires that we humbly put our trust in Him. Jesus’ name means “God saves” or Emmanuel “God is with us” His pourpose for us seems to be one of redeeming solidarity, in His infinite mercy reaching out for us in our messiness, calling us to daily conversion. Lord Jesus, come to our aid, help us walk with You & imitate You patiently reaching out to our brothers in this foggy journey toward complete communion with You

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