Pure Evil, Unvarnished & Unashamed, Takes Center Stage
At the conclusion of every Mass in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport in Fairfield County, Connecticut, the congregation recites the nineteenth century Prayer to St. Michael:
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
These past few days, we have witnessed once again the depths to which human beings can stoop in conceiving and perpetrating harm on other human beings. There is no need to provide examples, nor do I have the heart to do so, for through technology we have all become virtual witnesses to unmentionable acts of unfathomable depravity. Evil boldly shows its face and taunts a world rendered habitually indifferent by distance and self-interest.
These events are by no means unique in human history, or even in recent times. It is perhaps in our collective nature to react initially, and then move on to other, more pressing personal concerns which modern society is all too willing to provide. After all, in this world of ascendant relativism, who is to say what is right or wrong, good or evil? Doesn’t it really just depend on one’s perspective?
Charles Baudelaire famously said, “La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas" – in English, "The devil's finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist." Whether or not one believes in the biblical portrayal of the devil as the fallen angel Lucifer (“Satan” in Hebrew, meaning “the adversary”) or more generally as the personification of Evil engaged in a constant struggle with Good, it is difficult not to see evidence of the existence of evil in the atrocities inflicted recently on innocent members of our common human family.
Putting aside the historical, geographical, political and religious elements particular to this most recent tragedy, what we face today is nothing less than an existential threat to our common humanity. Men, women and children just like us – yes, exactly like us in the eyes of God – are among both the perpetrators and victims of the evil we are witnessing in real time. What are we, each of us, individually, going to do about it? Will we sit idly by, citing differences in history, geography, politics or religion as excuses to justify our inactivity? Or has the time finally come when we accept the necessity of individual, personal involvement? When we take to heart the famous admonition attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
What then to do? The answer can be as varied as the particular talents, skills, abilities and resources available to each of us individually. Yet there is one answer universally available regardless of individual circumstances: we can pray. Pray that this present evil will be successfully opposed, not by more evil but by tempered good. Pray that that success may be accomplished with – and succeeded by – justice, mercy, and compassion. Pray for the lives lost and those irrevocably damaged. And pray for the hope of a better future for that region and the world.
How, then, should we pray? The answer to that question must be individual to each of us. There are no magic words or required texts. But having said that, I believe there may be one particular archangel who might be exceptionally happy to hear from us.