Richard Rohr speaks and writes about Spiral of Violence: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. His ideas have their roots in traditional Catholic moral teaching and the teachings of Dom Helder Camara, a holy and wise archbishop of Brazil.
The world (systemic evil) is the lie at the root of most cultures about power, prestige, and possessions; in the middle is the flesh (the personal evil and bad choices of individuals); and at the top is the devil (evil disguised as good power to enforce the first two), which are usually the unquestionable institutions like war, the laws of market economy, most penal systems and many police forces, unjust legal systems and tax systems, etc. They are rightly called diabolical because starting with the snake in Genesis – high-level evil always disguises itself as good, charming, on your side, and even virtuous. Satan must present himself as too big or too needed to ever be wrong.
Until now our focus has been mostly on the individuals and their capacity to make moral and immoral choices. However, we are now faced with the realisation that evil exists at all three levels at the same time, and that we are part of that, because we are part of the way in which systems – cultures, groups, institutions and nations − organise themselves to survive. This form of evil is hidden and denied.
We have been formed within our context – family, community, church and nation. We have all been groomed by such factors and therefore develop a loyalty and trust to such powerful influences. It is difficult to honestly critique them, which is what Jesus did at his time and that eventually led to his crucifixion. I am finding it hard to fathom that I am part of this evil.
Today, I read a column titled Parents 101, written by Tarnya Davis from NewPsych Psychologists in the Herald’s Weekender. While she was writing about parenting, the following paragraph caught my eye:
Guilt means I’ve done something bad, whereas shame means I am bad. Shame is an emotion that paralyses. Shame triggers our primitive brain, activates our amygdala, sets off fight or flight and disconnects us from our calm logical thinking frontal lobe. It causes us to turn inward, to disconnect from others and to keep to ourselves.
So, our challenge is to realise that we are part of the many systems that require us to be informed, and to make decisions to act and not be paralysed by them, or to flee from them. Richard Rohr writes that one of the great favours John Paul II did was to introduce into Catholic theology the terms “structural evil,” “institutionalised sin,” and “corporate evil”. In that, he was very prophetic, because that is the primary way that the biblical prophets spoke. St Thomas Aquinas states, evil “must disguise itself as good.” Rohr goes on to say:
The devil’s secret is camouflage. The devil’s job is to look very moral! It has to look like we are defending some great purpose or cause, like making the world safe for democracy or keeping the bad people off the streets. Then you can do many evils without any guilt, without any shame or self-doubt, but actually with a sense of high-minded virtue.
I hope some of what I have shared with you may enable you to reflect on what is happening in our world, but also may invite you to reflect on your own actions or inactions.
So as we turn to Sunday’s scripture, we are reminded that the resurrected Jesus, Christ, is the way. This involves the art of hospitality, both serving (Martha) and listening (Mary). Both Mary and Martha recognised Jesus and welcomed him into their home. We too must look out for God’s revelation to us each day. How do we make real peace in our homes, workplaces and communities? Are we disciples of Jesus? Do we make real God’s mission in our world?
I was blessed to have met Jack Sobb, whose funeral I attended on Saturday. He died at the age of 98, and it was he who began the diocesan gathering of the Stations of the Cross in 1967. This continues today, and in my conversations with him, I assured him that we would continue this contemplative prayer of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and resurrection as a gathered people. Jack was a great man of faith who spent time in prayer and contemplation with the Lord. It was his faith that directed his every action and in turn the respect people had for him and the respect he gave to them. In 2015 he gave generously to the refurbishment of the last three Stations of the Cross at St Joseph’s Toronto where his ashes will be interred. This is where we gather each year on Palm Sunday to walk the Way. In 1967, thousands gathered at Lochinvar, while now, hundreds are gathering at Kilaben Bay. I am sure Jack will now be our patron saint for this gathering of faith-filled disciples who participate in the re-telling of the story. Jack spoke to God and God spoke to Jack. His wife Jess will miss him greatly, as will his family. They are struggling with the death of their patriarch, Jack. May he rest in peace.
Our 71 WYD pilgrims left on Thursday with many family and friends gathered to wave goodbye to them as they departed by bus from the Cathedral. I know they have arrived safely in Venice and are now on pilgrimage, “in the footsteps of the saints”, in Milan. Please hold them in prayer and the other millions of pilgrims from around the world who will join them in Krakow. In these uncertain times may they return home to us safely and with a renewed faith.
And I also gathered with others at Christ Church Cathedral to acknowledge Sea Sunday, to pray for those who travel the sea between ports to provide to countries the many goods that are on board their vessels to sustain their lives. We farewelled Rick McCosker, who has been chaplain for four years to our Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) Mission. With our Anglican counterparts, we minister ecumenically in the Mission to Seafarers to provide hospitality to those who visit the Port of Newcastle. Rick has been a great disciple and will continue as a volunteer with his wife Meryl. He has been replaced as Stella Maris Chaplain by Larry Mervin. There are many who volunteer at the Mission and if you have time you may consider this opportunity to be the face, hands, feet, voice, eyes and ears of Christ.
Here are two of the prayers we prayed:
Heavenly Father, we commend to you all seafarers. Guard and protect them in danger and temptation; sustain them in loneliness; and support them in sickness and anxiety. Bless all who minister to them. Watch over those who are near and dear to them, and grant them the blessing of your presence. These things we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Blessing on the Port of Newcastle
Gracious God, from whom all blessing comes,
stretch forth your holy hands in blessing over this Port of Newcastle,
its management and industries, those who work here,
those who visit and those who enjoy this place of recreation.
Keep them in safety and help us all to live to your glory,
In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let’s avoid the temptation to be paralysed by evil. Please continue to pray individually and collectively for world peace.