MONDAY HOMILY: Overcoming Evil by an Abundance of Good
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If we want the world to be a better place, we must be better. If we want to erect a bulwark against sin, we must begin with our own hearts. And if we want to rein in our tendency to sin, we must cultivate the virtues, beginning with the love of God.
SUGAR LAND,TX (Catholic Online) - In 1946 Pope Pius XII said, "The sin of the century was the loss of the sense of sin." His remarks were addressed to a catechetical conference in the United States. The Pope's comments were made less than a year after the end of the most horrific war in human history, which witnessed the deaths of tens of millions of people.
Looking over the morally barren landscape, the Pope rightly saw that the evils of war were precipitated in part by society's abandonment of a right relationship with God. Raw human willfulness had replaced moral reasoning. The result was untold suffering.
Pope Pius was not naďve, however. He knew that the inclination to sin is part of the human condition. "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur," says the Lord in the Gospel reading of today's Mass (Luke 17:1). This inclination to sin is called "concupiscence," which remains even after one has been purified in baptism.
"Certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition call concupiscence" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1264).
Even though concupiscence is a weakness for which we are not personally responsible - it being a kind of "scar" left over from original sin - we cannot use it as an excuse for evil actions. "The devil made me do it," and "that's just the way I am," are not acceptable pretexts that justify sin or remove its gravity. Concupiscence may render us weak, but it does not rob us of our freedom.
Modern man often confuses freedom with libertinism. The latter is pure willfulness; doing what one wants because one wants it. Freedom, on the other hand, is "the power, rooted in reason and will to act or not to act. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God,, our beatitude" (Catechism, no. 1731).
So, even though sin is inevitable, it is not inevitable in every instance or in every moment of one's life. Through the exercise of one's free will, each person has the capacity - even if weakened by concupiscence - to elect the good over evil. However, we are not always naturally disposed to the good: it is something that we must strive to know and to embrace.
Thankfully, God has given us the means to know the good. First, we possess the power of reason, which helps us to discern the good in things and circumstances. Second, we have the gift of divine revelation - Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition - which give us clarity about what is good and evil. Third, we have the Church, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).
How does the knowledge of what is good make any difference to the evil that we witness in the world? Knowing what is good is only the start. We must embrace the good, even in the face of sacrifice, persecution, and inner turmoil. "Do not be conquered by evil," says St. Paul, "but conquer evil with good" (Romans 12:21).
The cultivation of the virtues - good moral habits - is the antidote to the weakness of concupiscence that we experience. If we want the world to be a better place, we must be better. If we want to erect a bulwark against sin, we must begin with our own hearts. And if we want to rein in our tendency to sin, we must cultivate the virtues, beginning with the love of God.
Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.
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