February 18, 2005


Overcoming evil with good

In his message for this year’s World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II offered a reflection on the words of St. Paul, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).

According to the pope, overcoming evil with good is the very heart of the Christian mystery: “To save humanity from the selfishness of sin and its corollary of death, God himself lovingly enters, in Christ, into the fullness of life and into human history,” bringing freedom and redemption to all. The way to peace, and to freedom from every evil, is through Christ, whose goodness, mercy and selfless love transforms sinful humanity and liberates nations and peoples.

In his annual address to the Vatican Diplomatic Corps on Jan. 10, Pope John Paul II outlined some of the major challenges facing the world community today.

These challenges include:

• The challenge of life which the pope says “has grown in scale and urgency in recent years.”

• The challenge of providing food for the hundreds of millions of human beings who suffer from grave malnutrition and for the millions of children who die each year from hunger or its effects.

• The challenge of peace—especially in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America, “where recourse to arms and violence has fomented hatred and increased the causes of tension.”

• The challenge of freedom, including religious freedom, which is the prerequisite of peace and the guarantor of human dignity.

The challenge to overcome evil with good is presented to every generation regardless of its circumstances. The political and social issues may change but the basic principles remain the same. “In the moral and social sphere,” the pope says, “evil takes on the countenance of selfishness and hatred, which is negativity; it can only be overcome by love, which has the positivity of generous and disinterested giving, even to the point of self-sacrifice.”

Selfishness and negativity are where evil dwells. We find evil in the rule of tyrants; in social structures that defy human rights and dignity; in laws that sanction abortion, euthanasia and state-sponsored death; in a media culture that exploits human sexuality and trivializes the sacredness of marriage and family life. We find evil in terrorist acts, in genocide and in war. We find evil in ourselves, which is why we need the sacrament of reconciliation and the saving grace of the Eucharist—Christ’s self-sacrificing love given to us over and over again through the Church.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges facing our world today. We are called to defend life, to feed the hungry, to work for peace, to promote liberty and justice for all, and to let ourselves be transformed by the love of Christ and the liberating power of his grace.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” These are reassuring, but challenging, words spoken by St. Paul to the first generation of Christians—and forcefully repeated by the successor of St. Peter today.

May the Lord strengthen us with his grace and sustain us in our efforts to imitate his self-sacrificing love.

— Daniel Conway

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.)


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