Once upon a time, a woman goes shopping for a new dress. She finds the must stunning creation ever seen. But, it is expensive- $750.00. She knows she cannot afford it but wants to see how she looks in the dress. She tries it on and falls in love with it. She thinks about saving up for it but knows that someone will buy it as she waits. So, she buys the dress. That evening she shows her husband and he asks the inevitable question. “How much did it cost?” She tells him. He has a fit. She explains that the temptation was more than she could resist. Finally, her husband says, “When you get tempted you need to tell the devil, ‘Get behind me Satan.’” “That’s what I did,” she remarks, “and the devil tells me that it looks fantastic from the back also!”
Brothers and sisters, I do not want to speak about temptation- though this is important. I do not want to talk about sin- even though it would help in Lent. I want to speak about evil…it is very, very subtle.
The Genesis writer describes the fruit as “delightful to look at and good for food.” That is a good description of sin. Sin looks spectacular! Remember that the devil told the woman with the new dress that she looks good from the back. Remember that the fruit that becomes the downfall of Adam and Eve is “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” At first, Adam and Eve refuse to eat the fruit. “We will die,” she tells the serpent. And then the lie: “You will certainly will not die,” says the serpent, “in fact, you will become gods…”
Ever read M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie? His very first sentence is, “This is a dangerous book.” Evil is so subtle that it confuses us. It is a revulsion making us feel as if we are caught in some inexplicable web. According to Peck, it all begins with a lie. Look at the devil’s temptations of Jesus. Twice the devil says out rightly, “IF you are the Son of God…” Then he ends with, “All these I shall give to you, IF you bow down and worship me.” They are all lies.
However, and here now is the danger, there are lies that are really evil and we think that they are not out of the ordinary. So did Dr. Peck until he begins to see a pattern in some of his psychiatric treatments of his patients. One of his main chapters consists of Bobby and his parents. One summer, Bobby’s older brother Stuart commits suicide with his own .22 caliber rifle. Later that same summer, fifteen-year old Bobby is admitted to the hospital for depression- he stole a car and crashes it. Dr. Peck agrees to treat Bobby and meets him for an interview. Bobby is a typical teenager except for a few things: his unkempt hair covers his face, he looks down at the floor during the interview, and, as Dr. Peck speaks to him Bobby keeps digging into the sores on his hands and arms. Clearly, something is wrong. Dr. Peck asks the usual questions to get to know him but to no avail. Finally, since Bobby is in the hospital after Christmas, Dr. Peck asks what he got for Christmas. Herein follows part of the interview~
“What did your parents get you for Christmas?”
“Your parents must have given you something. What did they give you?
“A gun?” I repeated stupidly.
“What kind of gun?” I asked slowly.
“A twenty-two pistol?”
“No, a twenty-two rifle.”
“There was a moment of silence. I felt as if I had lost my bearings. I wanted to stop the interview. I wanted to go home. Finally, I pushed myself to say what had to be said. ‘I understand that it was with a twenty-two rifle that your brother killed himself.’”
“Was that what you asked for Christmas?”
“What did you ask for?”
“A tennis racket.”
“But you got the gun instead?”
“How did you feel, getting the same kind of gun that your brother had?”
“It wasn’t the same kind of gun.”
“I began to feel better. Maybe I was confused. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘I thought they were the same kind of gun.’”
“It wasn’t the same kind of gun,” Bobby replied. “It was the gun.”
“You mean, it was your brother’s gun?” “I wanted to go home very badly now.”
“You mean your parents gave you your brother’s gun for Christmas, the one he shot himself with?”
Bobby’s parents cannot understand why Dr. Peck decides to take Bobby away from them and send him to stay with his favorite aunt a couple hundred miles away. His parents do not even recall Bobby asking for a tennis racket for Christmas. Bobby’s parents do not even care that Bobby blames himself for his brother’s suicide, either because of a fight the night before, or a harsh word one week earlier. And then to hand him the same weapon that took his brother’s life on Christmas Day? They and many others are “’people of the lie’ deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception.”
And then the lie: “You will certainly will not die,” says the serpent, “in fact, you will become like gods…” Now, if you are like me, you might want to ask the question, “What is the difference between sin and evil?” People who search for spiritual grow admit their sin. Again, look at Genesis. After believing the lie of the serpent and eating the fruit, sin opens Adam and Eve’s eyes. They see they are naked. They cover up themselves. They run for cover. When God calls out to them, they admit they are sinners. Evil on the other hand admits nothing. Evil does not tolerate “the pain of self-reproach,” according to M. Scott Peck. Evil people “scapegoat,” he says, “destroying others instead of the evil within themselves” with lie after lie after lie. The worst mass evil we know today is the Holocaust. In America, it is the MyLai Massacre where evil people in the fields of Vietnam and in the military and political offices of Washington, D.C., refuse to “’meet’ the shadow.” Today we find this evil in the Catholic Church where some church officials refuse to even acknowledge that the evil shadows of child abuse exists.
Brothers and sisters, God heals sin through confession, not only in the sacrament but also through our honesty. How do we heal evil? First, we have to recognize it. Secondly, we believe it exists but we do not believe the lies. Do not buy the “masquerade,” Peck says. Confront it as Jesus confronts the “IFS” of the devil. Hannah Arendt says that evil is “banal.” Peck says that only “goodness” overcomes it.
We all have a little lie, a little shadow side within us. At times, I convince myself that this or that is ok. I begin to slide and slip on the slope. A brother or sister may confront me or maybe someone takes more drastic measures to help me. What I do know is that Lent is a time to know the grace of God and the gracious gift of justification in Jesus Christ. Remember, after his temptations in the desert, angels come and minister to Jesus. At this Lenten mass, may we experience the heavenly presence of the mercy and comfort of a Loving God.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The First Sunday of Lent