GOD IN OUR MIDST
Struggling With Evil
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

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 enemy—and 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 his message!

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.

Playing Mind Games

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.

Seeing With New Eyes

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 onto others.

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 people—perhaps most of all in those we are tempted to reject, fear or attack.

RICHARD ROHR, a Franciscan priest from Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. His newest book is Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Listen to a RealAudio excerpt from Father Richard Rohr

(Taken from New Great Themes of Scripture, a 10-part audiocassette series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090, $49.95.)

Questions for Reflection:

  • Have you ever found yourself using a scapegoat? Talk about it.
  • What evil in the world is it most difficult for you to forgive? How do you think Jesus would handle it?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection
from GOD IN OUR MIDST.

 

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FAMILY CORNER
Defining Your Family
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 qualities—some 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.

 

For Family Response: What one Christian quality would you most like to claim for your family?

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

 

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MEDIA WATCH
Planet 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 US
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 career.

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 simplicity—and 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 God's creation.

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 and everything."

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 joy—reveling 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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RESOURCES related to this month's themes:

The following material is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:

"Two 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):

"Love Your Enemy: The Gospel Call to Nonviolence" (audiocassette)
"Hope Against Darkness" (book)
"How to Forgive: A Step-by-Step Guide" (book)
"Keeping the Peace: Attitudes and Approaches" Youth Update, March 1997
"Making a Stand Against Violence," Youth Update, August 1995
"The God Who Reconciles" (videocassette)
"The Church Celebrates the Reconciling God" (videocassette)




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