March 26, 2012
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Popular mythology assumes that the culmination of history will be marked by a great "final battle" between the forces of good and evil. This myth has made for plenty of action movies in which the men in white hats achieve final and total victory over those in black hats.
The Book of Revelation appears to be moving in the same direction as well. Finally, in Chapter 19, heaven opens and Jesus rides out on a white horse, backed up by his followers on their white horses.
On the opposite side, "The beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army" (19.19).
Then what? No battle, no war. The beast and the false prophet "were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur."
Everyone else was killed by the sword of the rider on the horse. Not, however, with a sword that he carried in his hand, but rather "the sword that came from his mouth." The word alone was enough to destroy the forces of evil.
Except for the lake of fire, it would make for a disappointing movie. The final battle is no battle because the victory had already been won. For Jesus arrived on the scene wearing, not a white hat, but "a robe dipped in blood." Christ's sacrificial death and glorious resurrection won the battle long before this scene.
It's not difficult to find injustice in our world. The consequences of original sin surround us and it doesn't seem as though the battle is over. When injustice strikes a person, one wants to strike back. "I will not take it. The evildoer will pay."
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
Revenge and resentment are human reactions. The children of God, however, have faith, faith that the victory has been won.
There are not two forces headed for battle - one of good and one of evil. There is only one power - the good God who created everything and then, when humanity distorted that creation through sin, the good God came and redeemed creation. The power of sin was destroyed by the blood of the Lamb.
A mopping-up operation does remain. However, moral theologian Germain Grisez warns, "Resistance to evil is useless and an effort to destroy it worse than useless, since such an effort only succeeds in destroying the residual good" (Christian Moral Principles, p. 649).
A believer who understands that the victory has been won and that evil is not a force of its own, but only a lack of goodness, will meet injustice not with a hammer but with an embrace. Of course, one does not embrace the evil per se but rather the goodness hidden within the evil.
The seventh beatitude calls the children of God to be conciliatory in a way that seeks the redemption of one's enemies. One does not redeem them by harming them, but by making peace.
In many situations, this may seem like an impossible demand. Many have been deeply wounded by various types of abuse; many have had their family and friends slaughtered by murderers and mass murderers.
BELIEF IN VICTORY
No one said that Christ's victory over evil is as obvious as the sun rising in the sky. No one said that belief in the victory would be easy.
No one, in fact, even saw Christ rise from the dead on that Easter morning. All that the disciples had was an empty tomb, an abandoned shroud and a small number of Jesus' enigmatic post-resurrection appearances.
Even for the disciples, that wasn't enough. They needed one more thing - the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is given to all who have been baptized in Jesus' name and in his blood. For the early Church, that was enough. Despite horrible persecution, the Church spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire. People did believe.
The desire for revenge began to be replaced by the willingness to sacrifice even one's life rather than respond to evil with more evil.
This happened not because people decided to be nice. It happened because they believed in Christ's victory. It happened because they had accepted the offer to become children of God.
WATER AND SPIRIT
In one sense, everyone is a child of God: God created each and every person. More profoundly, however, God's children are those who have been born again of the water and the Spirit.
Without the Spirit, there is no way we could overcome our resentments and desire for retaliation in order to become true peacemakers. It is the Spirit who enables our belief in Christ's victory to be more than an intellectual belief. The Spirit empowers us to live as God's children.
In examining our lives in relation to the seventh beatitude, we might ask ourselves:
Do I ever respond to injustice by lashing back in anger?
In times of trial, do I ask the Holy Spirit to give me the fruit of patient endurance?
Do I pray for my enemies and ask the Lord to bless them abundantly?
Do I sometimes act as though Christ has not won the victory over evil and that I have to win it for him?