Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 20, 2017
By Father Peter Richards
After we pray the “Our Father” together at Mass, the instructions in the Roman Missal (the book the priest uses for Mass) says: “With hands extended, the priest continues alone: Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Let’s look at this prayer in some detail. It continues some of the themes of the “Our Father”.
“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil.” If the word ”evil” in the “Our Father” can also mean “the Evil One”, (in other words, Satan) as I wrote in my last article, the prayer we are looking at this week refers to evil in the plural. This reminds us that God wants to deliver us from every evil, whether that evil is Satan, other fallen angels (demons or devils), sin, crime, sickness, pain, death, natural disasters, and so on. God is love, and love does not wish evil on anyone.
But, why does God allow evil even though He doesn’t wish it on anyone? Well, that’s a great mystery, one that people have been wondering about for thousands of years. One answer is that in giving us human beings and angels free will, God took the risk that we would sometimes use that free will to choose to do harm rather than good. And so it happened. But God has a solution to evil. St. John Paul II had some good insights about this solution, which he put into hi apostolic letter of February 11, 1984 called Salvifici Doloris, which can be translated “of saving suffering”. The English title is “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering”. In his letter, the Pope first quotes St. Paul, who writes, “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24) He goes on to point out the connection between suffering and evil in the Bible. Evils cause suffering. Suffering can be the result of sin—either our own sins, or the sins of others. But suffering, freely accepted, can also be a response to evil, a weapon against it. This is what Jesus Christ did for us, in his great love, on the cross. We call this saving suffering “Redemption”, and so one of the titles of Christ is “Redeemer”.
All Christians are called to share in Christ’s Redemption. This is how St. John Paul II puts it: ”The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” (Salvifici Doloris 19)
St. John Paul II also presents the story of the Good Samaritan, and draws the conclusion that “suffering, which is present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present in order to unleash love in the human person, that unselfish ‘I’ on behalf of other people, especially those who suffer.” (Salvifici Doloris 29) This love, in response to the suffering caused by evil, helps to defeat evil. As St. John Paul II writes, “In that ‘cosmic’ struggle between the spiritual powers of good and evil, spoken of in the Letter to the Ephesians [6:12], human sufferings, united to the redemptive suffering of Christ, constitute a special support for the powers of good and open the way to the victory of these salvific [saving] powers.” (Salvifici Doloris 27) It is this developed understanding of evil and the “redemptive suffering” experienced by Jesus Christ that gives meaning to the suffering we experience in our lives as Christians. Thank God for that!
Have a great week! Fr. Richards