The light of the world

By Brandon A. Evans

Last in a series

The devil has long persisted in flooding the world with evil, and mankind has been all too eager in helping him—but the stronger evil becomes, the greater the victory Christ has over it.

A passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church illustrates the penultimate moment that this logic—of grace abounding over sin—revealed itself:

“It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal—so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight.

“However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly” (#1851).

Though evil abounds in our world, it is our calling as Christians to fight with Christ to replace it with grace and mercy.

Msgr. Stuart Swetland, director of the Newman Foundation at the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign and vicar for social justice in the Diocese of Peoria, said in a homily that when G.K. Chesterton was asked what was wrong with the world, his response was “I am.”

“The only part of the world that we really have control over is our own choices and actions,” Msgr. Swetland said. “And so, if the world isn’t what it’s meant to be, the place we start is with ourselves.”

Evil, he said, is the absence of a good thing that ought to be there. If we fail to love our brother as we ought, then there is a lack of something there—a hole in us. The way to combat evil, he said, is to fill in those holes. In this way, we are building up the kingdom of God.

For instance, if people are hungry because of sin—their own or others—by giving them food, we are making up for the evil that was done, Msgr. Swetland said.

He views the “Prayer of St. Francis” as a way to envision this. Lines from that prayer follow a pattern of replacing evil with good. The first half of the prayer reads:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

Sometimes, though, pain is inescapable for us and the effects of evil come to our door.

“In a world where sin exists, there’s going to be suffering,” Msgr. Swetland said. “Either we choose to embrace the cross, with its suffering, or we choose to go our own way, and choose not to love, which doesn’t have the same kind of suffering as the cross, but I think has a far worse kind of suffering, of aloneness.”

Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, said that in Jesus Christ our suffering has been redeemed.

“Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished,” the Holy Father writes. “He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed.”

St. Paul wrote to the Colossians that “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 2:24).

Our suffering can thus take evil and vanquish it in the death of Christ.

Mark Shea, senior content editor at, said that German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by the Nazis, said that when Christ calls you, he calls you to come and die.

That teaching, said Shea, is hard to accept and many try to make some kind of compromise with it.

“But that’s really, ultimately, where it goes,” he said.

By dying to ourselves and losing ourselves to God, we find ourselves, Scripture tells us.

“That’s the great paradox of love, and anyone who has been in love knows this: that you find yourself by giving yourself away,” Msgr. Swetland said.

Not following this narrow path of Christ is what led Adam and Eve into trouble—they refused to play by God’s rules.

Jesus’ perfect obedience shows us the way again.

The Lord calls us to love God with our whole selves, and to love our neighbor as he loved us. This is no easy task and would be impossible, but for the grace of God.

“We have to remember that this isn’t just our efforts, but what we’re doing is uniting ourselves with the efforts of God’s graces—the transformative efforts,” Msgr. Swetland said.

And that grace not only empowers us in ways that we can see, but in ways far more marvelous. We are working with Christ, Msgr. Swetland said, to more fully restore the harmonies we had with creation, our mind, our emotions and the community that were shattered in the Fall.

“So everything we do that’s good becomes a source of building up the kingdom and overcoming the disharmonies,” he said.

And even more than fighting the evils that plague our world, we as Christians are doing battle against the devil—the one whose works Jesus came to destroy, the New Testament says.

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians to “put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6: 11-12).

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the archbishop of Milan, Italy, wrote a pastoral letter three years ago about fighting the devil.

In it, he gave simple pieces of advice, such as praying always, adoring God, being humble, listening to God’s Words, offering penance and being strong in virtue.

“There are people who will make bold, blustering comments about the demonic,” Shea said, “and they sound a lot like St. Peter at the Last Supper, you know, promising the moon about how they’re going to resist the blandishments of Satan.

“Apart from grace, we have no capacity to deal with a fallen angel. We might as well be amoebas challenging Arnold Schwarzenegger. Angels, by nature, are vastly superior to us, and we couldn’t stand against them for a second without the grace of Christ,” Shea said.

With that grace, we stand superior to the angels, he said, “but it’s not something that most people think about.”

God’s grace works through many channels. One of those is through Mary, the mother of God. Another is through the saints who have gone before us to their reward in heaven.

Another channel—one not used frequently enough, Shea said—is to appeal to the powerful and faithful angels of God.

The majority of Christ’s glorious angels did not fall, and serve the Lord by serving us—and protecting us from their vicious counterparts.

Angels live first and foremost to praise the Lord, Shea said, but after that they minister to us.

“They’re happy to help,” he said, “if we’ll ask them and let them. That’s what they’re there for.”

“The angels communicate God’s presence to us and attempt in this sense to always enlighten us, give us good and wholesome thoughts, the inclination to do good and so on,” said Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general.

The Church also teaches that each of us has a guardian angel, assigned especially to us. Some Catholics make good recourse to their angels, Shea said.

The famous prayer to St. Michael the Archangel was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1884 after he had a vision where Satan asked the Lord for 100 years to wreak havoc on the Church.

There are angels of all sorts around us all the time, filling the landscape, and that’s “a remarkable thing” to think about, Shea said.

The life of the simplest person can be a powerful prayer to God. The things that we do in our lives can be like ripples in a pond, Msgr. Swetland said.

“There can be great ripples from our one action or in improving ourselves and becoming the saint that we’re called to be,” he said.

One of the last pieces of advice that Cardinal Tettamanzi had for resisting Satan was “remembering Christ’s victory over temptation. Remembering man’s sharing in the victory.”

Msgr. Swetland has, on more than one occasion, held up a Bible during a homily. “We know the end,” he’ll say: “We win.”

Christ’s victory was final and lasting, though we are the ones to complete it. The more evil rises in the world, in all its forms, the more that good triumphs—even if that triumph is invisible.

Hundreds of years ago, St. Louis de Montfort saw this pattern about rising evil and the victory of good, and wrote about it in True Devotion to Mary.

“For Satan,” he writes, “knowing that he has little time—even less now than ever—to destroy souls, intensifies his efforts and his onslaughts every day.”

But like others in our time, he spoke of the solution to this being found in the lives of the saints to come.

“They will be as the children of Levi, thoroughly purified by the fire of great tribulations and closely joined to God,” the saint writes. “They will carry the gold of love in their heart, the frankincense of prayer in their mind and the myrrh of mortification in their body.

“They will bring to the poor and lowly everywhere the sweet fragrance of Jesus, but they will bring the odor of death to the great, the rich and the proud of this world.

“They will thunder against sin, they will storm against the world, they will strike down the devil and his followers.”

But when and how will this come about? Only God knows. For our part, we must yearn and wait for it in silence and in prayer.” †


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