One of the most difficult biblical themes to explore is how
we humans deal with and confront evil. There is something
in our psychological makeup that makes it hard to see, to
hear, to face evil realistically.
Throughout history, most of us have seen the problem of evil
similarly: We are forever looking for the enemyand finding
the enemy"out there." Someone else or some other group
is almost always the problem, so we feel justified in blaming
and accusing others. This enables us to live hatefully, even
violently, and without guilt. "...The hour is coming when
everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to
God," says Jesus (John 16:2).
Starting with Cain and Abel, history is an account of who
killed whom and who "deserves" to be killed. So much of history
is a search for the appropriate enemy. In simple terms, he
hit me so I am free to hit him back. Two millennia after Jesus
became the forgiving victim of history we continue to miss
That same human dynamic is evident in Leviticus 16, where
we read about the scapegoat ritual. On the Day of Atonement,
a goat was brought into the Holy of Holies where the high
priest would lay his hands on the animal. All of the sins
and failures of the people were ceremoniously laid on the
goat, and the people would beat the goat into the desert.
Through that ingenious liturgical rite the people distanced
themselves from their sins by finding an easy target on which
to project them. Liturgically, it worked! In fact, it works
so well that we have never stopped creating scapegoats.
We convince ourselves that we are on the path of righteousness:
Our hatred is moral because the stakes are so high when our
countries, our people, our neighborhood, our way of life,
our religious beliefs are under siege. Finding and dealing
with evil "out there" holds us together as nations and families
as we define ourselves by what we are against.
Jesus shows us another way. Many of his healings are really
an effort to reintegrate persons into the community. There
is no room for scapegoating in his teaching. He does not expel
sinners but forgives them. He even commands that we love our
enemies. There is no "contaminating element" to get rid of
in Jesus' teaching. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the
opposite of scapegoating, punishing and excluding the supposed
enemy. The great conversion occurs when we see that we are
our own worst enemies.
St. Paul is another model. He is a converted persecutor and
accuser who once gloried in his negative identity as a hater
of Christians. No one was "holier" than Saul, the dutiful
Pharisee, until the scales fell from his eyes on the road
to Damascus. There, for the first time, he recognized that
he had become hate in the name of love, evil in the name of
goodness, a murderer in the name of religion.
Few of us are likely to see ourselves in the extremes of
St. Paul, but through God's grace we, too, can begin to see
with new eyes. We can choose the path of transformation that
Jesus and our faith call us to rather than take the more familiar
and comfortable outlet of scapegoating and projecting evil
Jesus calls us to follow the way of the reconciler: to deal
with evil by holding it rather than hating it; to hold it
with grace; to be people who cannot hate anymore; to reject
both fight and flight; to refuse to allow ourselves to be
pulled onto one side or the other of every dilemma.
The gospel is destabilizing. It calls us to nonviolence.
It calls us to the way of wisdom. It calls us to see God in
every moment and circumstance. It calls us to see God in all
peopleperhaps most of all in those we are tempted to
reject, fear or attack.
to a RealAudio excerpt from Father Richard Rohr
Great Themes of Scripture, a 10-part audiocassette
series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090,
By Judith Dunlap
At a family workshop years ago, our family spent an afternoon
designing a banner that would identify who we were. The
idea was to use symbols and as few words as possible to
help others get to know who we were. It was a great exercise
that helped our family focus on our priorities.
Every group or organization has some identifying qualitiessome
things about it that make it different from other groups
around it. The same is true for families. Each family has
its own characteristics. Some are certainly hereditary.
Qualities like respect and generosity or prejudice and self-righteousness
can be handed down just like red hair and freckles. And
the tendencies to criticize or affirm, help or walk away
are often influenced by a family's vision.
So what is your family's vision? What do you value? To
answer these questions think about how you like to spend
time together as a family. Pay attention to your conversations.
Are there any attributes or attitudes that need adjustment?
You want the best for your family and you want your family
to be the best it can be. So whenever possible, help the
whole family articulate the Christian attributes and values
they would like to live out.
I still remember the family banner we made so long ago.
It was a crest with a tent in one corner and a hamburger
in another. (Our family liked to camp and eat.) There were
overlapping hands in the bottom section of the crest with
the words, "ready hands." We were a family of seven that
realized how much we needed each other. Today our kids are
all grown up. They still like to camp and eat, and no matter
how dispersed we may be we still count on each other.
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of the Apes
By Frank Frost
Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes is bright, fast,
loud. It produces a starburst of special effects and revels
in its own feats of technology, but it never does much else.
The movie begins with Capt. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg)
stationed on a spacecraft with the U.S. Air Force. Aboard
the ship, astronauts work with genetically enhanced, specially
trained chimpanzees. These chimps are so sophisticated that
they can fly small shuttles into space, testing the waters
for humans to follow. Trouble arises when Leo's primate
companion, Pericles, becomes lost in an electromagnetic
storm, and Capt. Davidson makes the dubious decision to
rocket out after him.
The storm hurtles Leo forward through time to a high-speed
crash landing on a planet dense with jungle. He spies other
humans, but learns this isn't Earth: On this planet, people
are on the run. Strong, intelligent apes are the masters
of the domain, and they capture humans to be their slaves.
Leo is caught, but with the help of Ari (Helena Bonham Carter),
an ape sympathetic to humans, he and some other rebel humans
escape. As he journeys to reunite with his crew, he becomes
the reluctant leader of a human resistance. He is able to
follow through on his promise to Ari that he will "change
her world forever," just before Burton sends him back into
space to meet with a bizarre surprise ending.
Although Planet of the Apes touches on many real
dilemmas, it doesn't genuinely seek to resolve them. Obvious
metaphors for slavery in America's past and the role-reversal
of animals putting humans in cages are not used to create
any genuine insight into race relations, tolerance or what
humane treatment of other species should look like. Other
interesting questions regarding the benefits and dangers
of technology, the relationship between cruelty and power
and the value of religion in society are similarly raised,
then abandoned. Indeed, the film's use of these issues for
humor tends to trivialize them.
Rather, the film chooses to deliberately recycle clich—s,
with campy humor from many movies past. It goes after recognizable
moments and lines with admirable aplomb, and frequently
succeeds in eliciting laughs. There are tastes of Gladiator,
Braveheart, traditional westerns and sci-fi flicks.
We see Charlton Heston warn about the dangers of guns: "Can't
we all just get along?" he says on his deathbed. And as
Mark Wahlberg attempts to motivate the humans in their uphill
battle against the apes, he delivers a melange of just about
every coaching/getting-troops-fired-up speech ever to cross
the big screen.
With the impressive effects and the intense sensory experience
it provides, Planet of the Apes creates a fun, light
ride for its audience. Its self-aware sense of humor lets
laughter live. But don't look too hard for deeper meaning;
you may end up with strained vision. Here, what you get
is exactly what meets the eye.
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SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG
By Judy Ball
St. Francis of Assisi (1181?-1226)
Francis Bernardone did not set out to become a saint who
would be known and beloved throughout the world for his
humility, simplicity, holiness, radical embrace of the gospel
and profound love of creation. Born to wealth, he was comfortable
with extravagant living and envisioned a glorious military
But God had other plans, speaking to him through challenging
life experiences, including imprisonment and illness. Francis
heard God's call. For a time he took literally the words
he had heard while praying before the crucifix in the neglected
chapel at San Damiano: "Francis, rebuild my house, for it
is nearly falling down."
Eventually, he heard the deeper meaning in the words and
understood that Jesus was calling him to a life of service
to God and the Church. He became a beggar who dressed in
rags; survived on table scraps; was disinherited by his
father; suffered ridicule at the hands of former friends.
He embraced lepers and nursed them.
But "the little poor man" was happy in his life of prayer,
poverty and simplicityand his joy was transparent.
Francis quickly attracted followers who likewise felt drawn
to take the gospel literally and to bring Jesus directly
to the people through preaching and good works.
The patron saint of peace and of ecology, he is credited
with introducing the Christmas creche as a powerful symbol
of God's love for humankind. His "Canticle of the Sun,"
written shortly before his death, bursts with praise for
Francis of Assisi was canonized in 1228. His feast day
is October 4. Protestant denominations, including some Lutherans
and Episcopalians, also mark his feast day.
Giacomo Bini, O.F.M.
Being called to follow in the footsteps of one of the world's
most revered saints is both a joy and a challenge. It is
a calling Giacomo Bini cherishes as the 109th successor
of St. Francis. The native of Ancona, Italy, was elected
Minister General of the worldwide Order of Franciscan Friars
(O.F.M.'s) in 1997. Ordained a priest in 1964, he prefers
the title of brother to emphasize Franciscan brotherhood.
It is not just the many members of the Franciscan family
who find a role model in Francis, Brother Giacomo told Every
Day Catholic. "Francis is a true pontiff" [the Latin
word for bridge-builder]. "He was a brother to everyone
As he travels the globe, Brother Giacomo is convinced of
Francis' relevance wherever he goes. "We live in a world
where people are more and more isolated, confused and fearful
of a future which appears uncertain and uninviting. Francis
is an exceptional man. He has found his identity and is
at home with himself. He knows the One to whom he belongs."
A former professor and missionary in Africa, Brother Giacomo,
63, believes that the simple lifestyle Francis followed
long ago has meaning today. "We live in a whirlwind, constantly
chasing after new sensations and switching frantically from
one diversion to the next. The way of Francis opens for
us the possibility of living in the present and really savoring
life as a gift and experiencing its beauty. It's the way
of joyreveling in what is rather than hankering after
what might be."
Francis challenges us to see that "everything we are and
have is a gift of God to us, and must become through us
a gift to others."
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to this month's themes:
The following material
is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:
Fathers and Forgiveness," St. Anthony Messenger, April 2000
The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony
Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):
Your Enemy: The Gospel Call to Nonviolence" (audiocassette)
Against Darkness" (book)
to Forgive: A Step-by-Step Guide" (book)
the Peace: Attitudes and Approaches" Youth Update,
a Stand Against Violence," Youth Update, August 1995
God Who Reconciles" (videocassette)
Church Celebrates the Reconciling God" (videocassette)