Monthly Archives: February 2021

How Do We Explain Evil?

“Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the twelve, and he went to the chief priests and the temple guards to discuss a plan for handing [Jesus] over to them.” (Luke 22:3-4)

In all four Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus announces that one of the disciples will betray him.  Luke specifically says that Satan entered Judas and then he conspired with the chief priests to arrange for Jesus’ arrest.

As one of the disciples, Judas would have traveled with Jesus, listened to his teachings, and seen him perform numerous miracles. What caused him to want to betray Jesus?  Was he a loyal disciple one moment and then suddenly a betrayer?  What caused Satan to enter him?  The Gospel of John suggests that he was a thief and, as keeper of the money, regularly helped himself to it. (John 12:6)

Both Satan and evil are real.  They are spiritual realities just like the Holy Spirit.  While we may not be able to see Satan physically, we can see the effects of his presence, just as we can with the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul describes the contrast.  With Satan and evil, he says we see “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.”  With the Holy Spirit we see “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23)

What makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attack?  Peter says, “Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)    Like all predators, Satan attacks our weaknesses, bad habits and self-indulgences, inclining us to serve first ourselves instead of others.  We relate to St. Paul’s statement, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Rom. 7:19)  Satan’s goal is to separate us from God whom he hates.

The antidote to Satan and the putrid fruit he dispenses is accepting Jesus’ offer to dwell in us through the Holy Spirit and embracing his example of death to self – the cross.  This is impossible for us without God’s presence and grace.  But as Jesus says, “With God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26)  Many years ago, I met Jesus one evening and asked him to take the present sin and disorder in my life…and he did!  I accepted his offer to dwell in me.  It was truly a life-changing moment.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:7)  Sin begets more sin.  Grace begets more grace.

Do you recognize Satan’s efforts to pull you away from God?  What are they?

Surely Not I, Lord

“‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’  Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord?’” Matthew 26:21-22

These are Jesus’ words to the disciples at the Last Supper.  Notice how each one of them protested, yet all of them abandoned Jesus at the time of his arrest. And, of course, we are familiar with Peter later denying three times that he knew Jesus.

It seems that our tendency is to resist acknowledging our sin or wrongdoing.  Even when we acknowledge it, we often develop excuses or rationalize our conduct.  We resist correction and then compound our resistance by getting angry with the person who is trying to help us.

This occurs in varying ways.  It can be a job evaluation that indicates we are not doing our best.  Sometimes it shows up in an argument with a family member or friend when we don’t get our way.  We may dismiss our use of negative humor or participating in gossip.  We may go along with a business practice of questionable integrity so as not to rock the boat. 

Following a social engagement with some friends, my wife commented that I had been harsh with one person in connection with a certain political discussion.  I protested, claiming to have been quite reasonable in my comments – “surely not I, Lord.”  It took me a while to acknowledge that what counted was not my perception, but the perception of the person with whom I was having the discussion.  

No matter how long we have been walking with the Lord, we are still capable of betraying Christ’s presence in us, along with his mercy and kindness.  We can deny our wrongdoing, or acknowledge it, seek forgiveness and pray for greater faithfulness.  Proverbs 12:1 gets it right when it says, “He who hates correction is stupid.” (NIV)   

Do I humble myself and acknowledge when I do something wrong, or do I say, “Surely, not I, Lord?”     

Showing Up

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am;’ I said; ‘send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)

These are the words of Isaiah, the prophet, who finds himself in the temple in the presence of God.  He immediately becomes aware that he is unworthy to be there, being a man of unclean lips who lives among a people of unclean lips. An angel touches his lips with a live coal taken from the altar and declares that his guilt is taken away.  Then Isaiah hears the Lord say who shall he send, and Isaiah replies with the above words, “Here I am. Send me!”

A Christian friend mentioned to me a few years ago that he was going to Cuba with a Christian group.  He said that he wasn’t sure what he would be doing, but realized that over the years the most important thing he could do was just show up.  He said that he found that God’s grace was at work in any given situation or need. Since then he and his team have gone on ten of these trips, and their efforts have led to over five thousand professions of faith by individual Cubans.    

Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.”  He instructed his disciples to declare that the kingdom of God is at hand. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons,” he told them.  “Whoever receives you, receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  (Mt. 9:35; 10:8, 40)

Many years ago, I was asked to help start a local chapter of Christians in Commerce, a national organization whose mission is “to encourage and equip Christians to be God’s presence in the workplace by the power of the Holy Spirit, exercising faith, integrity and excellence.” I contacted a couple of close Christian brothers, and we invited about 20 men on a weekend retreat.  The Northern Virginia chapter was established and has been meeting every Wednesday morning since May, 1985, albeit by Zoom this past year.  Over the years, hundreds of men have been invited to experience the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a much fuller way, countless lives have been changed through these retreats and weekly meetings, and many workplaces impacted. 

I didn’t do anything special.  Like my friend said, I just showed up.  God was already there through his Holy Spirit, touching and changing lives.

Are you available to be God’s presence to the people and circumstances in your life?

Passing on the Good News

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:18 NIV)

As parents, we have a profound duty to instruct and witness to the reality of God to the next generation.  In today’s world, if parents are not experiencing God’s presence in their own lives, it may be difficult for them to pass on much to their children. 

Even if parents believe in God and are practicing Christians, they may leave this instruction up to the church in the form of Catholic schools, religious education and Sunday school.  While the church does indeed have a role, parents still have the primary responsibility. 

I know of many Christian families who do indeed fulfill this responsibility in a variety of ways — reading stories from a Children’s Bible; praying together at meals, the beginning of the day or at bedtime; establishing family traditions during Christmas and Easter, and otherwise nurturing faith and knowledge of God. 

Just as important is the personal example parents can provide to their children.  While I never made a show of it, I never hesitated letting my children see me in my personal prayer time as they came down stairs before breakfast.  More important was for them to see my wife and me treat each other with love and respect, acknowledge our mistakes, seek forgiveness when we messed up, and let our actions generally reflect love, truth and service.  While we didn’t always fulfill these objectives, we tried. 

Today, our children are adults with families and children of their own.  We are blessed to see how they are passing on their love of the Lord and the importance they place on his presence in their lives.  As grandparents, we now have the opportunity to let our words and conduct be a subtle witness to our grandchildren – even yielding to their favorite form of communication, texting. 

In a culture where traditional Christian values seem under attack, what better gift can we provide than to let the next generation see through our lives that God is real, that we can have a personal relationship with him, and that the Holy Spirit empowers us to bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives — all for the purpose of bringing about his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Are you passing on the Good News to the next generation, particularly your children and grandchildren?