Good and evil

In 13 Today's Church on 2014/10/26 at 12:00 AM


  • Aristotle once wrote that “our character is determined by our choosing good or evil, not by the opinions we hold” (cf. Nichomachean Ethics 3.2). In other words, actions speak louder than words when it comes to character formation.
  • If we wish to be “good” people, then it is imperative to do what is right and good, not just know what is right and good.
  • Last week I spoke about striving to overcome temptation and sin in order to become that ideal person God desires us to be. We should choose to do what is right and good and thereby become this ideal person not simply for our own salvation, but also for God’s glory!
  • Today’s readings remind us that there’s another reason we should strive to become the best version of ourselves: viz., for the sake of other people.
  • All of us are necessarily in relationship with other persons. Whether we like it or not, our actions (and inactions) readily affect other people. None of us lives in a vacuum. And today’s readings speak about how our relationships with others should be governed.
  • Of course Jesus Himself reminds us in the Gospel today that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, while the Book of Exodus speaks to us of how we should deal with the poor, the needy, and less fortunate in our midst.
  • Thus, these two readings remind us of the importance of exercising the virtues of charity and justice with others. Today I’d like to focus a bit on these virtues, especially justice.
  • The word justice comes from the Latin root jus, which means “right” or “equitable.” Practicing justice requires that we treat people with fairness, not just courtesy.
  • Thus, the virtue of justice leads us to give people their proper due, to respect their rights: both their natural and legal rights as people, as well as the rights that arise from the obligations each of us has towards our family and friends.
  • Perhaps in theory this doesn’t sound too difficult, but the long docket of court cases in our society today, as well as the demonstrations, political uprisings, and wars in our world, show that justice often is lacking in human relationships – not to mention charity.
  • At this point in my life, I’ve been a priest long enough to witness many, many examples of human relationships of all sorts falling apart, and the devastation engendered by a lack of true justice within those relationships.
  • So many times marriages fail, families fall apart, and friends no longer speak because justice within a relationship is neglected and someone is not accorded the proper respect.
  • So how do we become truly just people so that our all of our relationships can be properly governed? Practicing justice relies on knowledge of the truth, and therefore practicing justice begins with the virtue of humility.
  • Humility is the virtue that enables us to see truth clearly, especially the truth about ourselves. Humility enables us to see ourselves as God sees us. Moreover, humility enables us to see that everything we have, every good quality we possess, is an unmerited gift from God.
  • So many of us today operate under a mistaken sense of entitlement. So many of us believe that we deserve all the successes we enjoy in this life because we’ve worked hard for them. And perhaps we have worked hard, which is good.
  • But the full truth is that God, in His great love, mercy, and solicitude, has given us every talent, every skill, and every positive character trait that has contributed to whatever successes we enjoy in this life. No one is a self-made man.
  • None of us can ever succeed in this life without God’s blessing or without God willing it. Sadly, so many of us are too blind to see this full truth, and when we are blind to the truth about ourselves, we are often blind to the truth about others as well.
  • Obviously, we are all in God’s debt. Therefore, it is right and just that we render Him our homage, our praise, our adoration, and our sincere gratitude. To neglect to worship, praise, and thank God is a serious sin and a terrible injustice.
  • While we can never repay God for His goodness to us, justice demands that treat Him with the greatest respect, loving Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind in order for our relationship with Him to be properly ordered.
  • Coming to this understanding that it is our Lord who has given us every good thing should also help us to properly order our relationships with other people as well.
  • Specifically, if it is God who is responsible for every gift that man has, then all men are truly equal in dignity. Put another way, each of us is a beggar before God. While certainly some people are greater sinners than others, each of is in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
  • This absolute need for God’s mercy, the fact that none of us will be saved by our own merits, makes us all equal in God’s eyes – even the worst of sinners. As Christians, we must therefore look upon all people as worthy of love, respect, and compassion – for that’s how God sees us.
  • While I think most of us may ascent to this notion of the radical equality of all people in God’s eyes, in practice too many of us fall short in treating others, especially those closest to us, with the proper respect at times. We often fail to see others as worthy of our love.
  • When we lack humility, we do not always see the truth about ourselves and others, and in our lack of humility we sometimes feel justified in treating people badly. In our broken human nature, we are often inclined to think too highly of ourselves, and too little of others.
  • So many of the sins we commit against others: our petty judgments, our gossiping, our insults, our unwillingness to forgive, our lies, our cheating and stealing, even sins of violence come from this failure to acknowledge this fundamental equality of dignity.
  • Or we labor under the mistaken belief that because someone has harmed us or wronged us in some way, we therefore have the right to sin against them in turn, or at least withhold our forgiveness.
  • But the truth, my brothers and sisters, is that we are all sinners. Each and every one of us. Each of us is worthy of God’s love, and conversely, each of us is also deserving of His damnation for whatever sins we’ve committed. We are all spiritually sick; we are all broken.
  • We are all in need of God’s mercy. While it is true that some of us are greater sinners than others, true justice (tempered by charity and Christian wisdom) recognizes that none of us has a right to God’s mercy, and therefore none of has a right to withhold mercy from others.
  • And thus Jesus must be our model for how to treat others. Despite our terrible sinfulness – a sinfulness that is rendered all the more terrible when we consider all that God has done for us – Jesus was still willing to suffer and die for us so that we might be redeemed.
  • So, if we are going to call ourselves Christians, we must be willing to forgive the sins of others – even the most grievous of offenses – in order to treat people with justice and charity.
  • Hardness of heart, bitterness, and lack of forgiveness have no place in God’s Kingdom.
  • Therefore, let us all today examine ourselves well. Whom have we offended; to whom do weowe an apology? In justice let us take responsibility for our actions and do our best to make amends to all whom we’ve trespassed against.
  •  And in charity, let us forgive all who have trespassed against us.


©Fr. Timothy Reid

Pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC


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