Have you noticed it’s not a perfect world yet? Does the prevalence of so much that is not right stir you to want to do something about it, or have you found yourself just getting tired or even depressed, wondering if anything can be done?

Often depression and lethargy — a kind of “sleeping off” the pain while ignoring its symptoms — are a cover-up for anger. Anger is not a fun feeling, but it is better than feeling nothing. It’s proof you are alive. Rocks and stones don’t get angry. Anger can be quite appropriate if it is a spontaneous or measured response. It can even fuel the passion to resist the evil or injustice and, if combined with real thought and strategy, to end, correct or re-channel it.

But the “it” — the real target — must be clearly identified to avoid becoming a vicious circle. It happens that all too often what we are mad about is not really what we are mad about. Who or what exactly is provoking the anger?

We have all had the experience of feeling instantly that we like (or dislike) a certain person. Fortunately, and unfortunately, that is the beginning and the end of some of our relationships. A person may remind us of someone we like and, without much thought, that person begins to be our next friend. The opposite can happen if something about a person triggers bad memories. This phenomenon can even shape feelings about a whole group, class, race or other social, cultural or political array of persons. Mental stereotypes can be formed out of a traumatic experience with just one person that might be projected collectively onto others similar in sex, color, ethnicity, religion or just about any descriptive the mind can imagine.

All of these variables and variations of humankind — the categories in which we are accustomed to file our human relationships — may have their uses but, if we start with a basic premise of our faith, do not ultimately serve the one thing that matters: seeing and loving every human person as God knows them.

God is good. What comes from God — what God creates — is good. And humanity is uniquely created “in the image and likeness of God” because God is, essentially, personal and relational. That is why when St. John says “God IS love,” it makes so much sense, especially if we affirm a Trinitarian God — three persons crazy about each other (eternally revolving around one another and madly in love with us, or “pazzo d’amore,” in the words of St. Catherine of Siena. And if we are created by Love and for love, as St. Augustine reminds us, we can only find our true selves by willing this love freely. If it is not mutually free, it cannot be love.

Love can only be willed, not forced, because love is free. It cannot be imposed, only accepted. Now Evil is just the opposite. Evil is a lack or absence of love. It does not will the good of the other, but his or her destruction and debasement. It breaks things and people as a way of manifesting the “non-being” that it is — or the being that isn’t. It’s more like a black hole that sucks light and goodness into a totally self-absorbed abyss of nothingness. In fact, that inertia mentioned about, the feeling of “what’s the use” is exactly where the Devil wants us to be so that he can devour our spirit.

Satan cannot make anything, only mock and tarnish what God creates, or what we make with the help of God’s loving grace. If you are ever in a situation where you or someone else are being mocked, you can be pretty sure the company of Jesus is not being noticed or enjoyed in that setting.

Notice how the eyes of gossips always dart about as they fulminate, as if to be sure no one who knows the real truth is around. They really want a person to be much less than they truly are and are called to be. Gossip always flows from the lips of a mind and heart that are broken or lacking a certain sense of peace and wholeness — or holiness, actually. What good has ever come of it? How does it serve God — or anyone?

So getting back to where we started, if you find yourself caught up in this world full of lies and broken promises, and if this makes you angry, congratulations! You have a conscience and you are probably listening to it. You see that something is wrong and should not be that way. But don’t stop there. In fact, don’t just DO something, STAND there and reflect a moment.

That’s right. The impulse of anger is to strike back immediately — to let it all out and, by doing so, to hope that the doing or saying of something will release the anger and make YOU feel better. But does it? Well sometimes, like a good cry, a string of curses or a good punch in the face may seem the best way to relieve the situation, as most artistic expressions depict, cinematically, operatically, or even in the less artful drama of everyday life.

As I have written recently, some even resort to various rituals of a magical or occult nature to rid the sources of anger and oppression in their lives from presence or awareness. But ultimately, all of this hocus-pocus is powerless to overcome the source, the real cause of the evil and the broken in our lives. 

First is it necessary to name the evil: what exactly it is that is wrong. Is it the person, or is it the action, the attitude or the pattern of behavior that is really objectionable? As already noted, evil is a nothing — the absence of good — because it creates nothing and heeds, heals or hopes nothing. It leads only to frustration, despair and hopelessness. That is why the temptation to discouragement is the most diabolical of all temptations.

So if one is angry or frustrated to the point of wanting to punch back, is that the best response? Well, as Gandhi once observed, eye for an eye means the whole world goes blind. No, he did not recommend then to do nothing. And his success through peaceful and purposeful resistance is legendary.

No one has successfully traced the authorship of the quote, but we have all heard it: the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. If one wishes to be good, one must act. But how?

I doubt anyone would say Jesus Christ — or St. Francis or Mother Teresa for that matter — did nothing in the face of evil. But what they all did was not just get mad. They turned their passions into doing good, not by sinning but by living on earth as if they were in heaven. In the unique life of Jesus, of course, where “I and the Father are one,” there was never any question of the link between heaven and earth in all that he said and did. In the lives of saints — and each of us is called to be a saint — it is a daily, constant struggle and an invitation to live that way of the Beatitudes. We in the present are drawn into the eternal life of heaven which he plants today in our hearts and souls.

To put it another way, Evil can only be conquered by a life of virtue. That means making choices. It involves loving, creative, intentional actions — which can be mental, attitudinal or practical — at every moment of the day. ‘Letting God and letting go” is a simple way to describe the strategy, if we might call it that.

In the face of evil and brokenness, one way to relate to the person and not the misdeeds is to envision that person redeemed. What might that person, collective, or situation look like — redeemed? Another way to say this is, how could God’s grace change those circumstances? And then become an instrument of that grace, through prayer, example, participation or even coaching. Do not stay silent. Act, but do not re-act, by perpetuating the vicious cycle. 

Virtuous acting requires great patience. It is how God acts in the world. The poet T.S. Eliot put it beautifully in a soliloquy spoken by Thomas Beckett in his play “Murder in the Cathedral.” The monologue describes how God acts through cross of Christ — and ours when we embrace it — with patience and suffering. These actions mysteriously interweave in the lives of the virtuous:

They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer.

They know and do not know, that acting is suffering

And suffering is action. Neither does the agent suffer

Nor the patient act. But both are fixed

In an eternal action, an eternal patience

To which all must consent that it may be willed

And which all must suffer that they may will it,

That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action

And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still

Be forever still.

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