Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Holy Thursday—20 March AD 2008

“Every evil man lives on, either that he may be corrected,
or that through him the good may be tried.”


Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin & English
Lenten Observance

    A few weeks ago, one of our parishioners gave me a question to answer in our Parish Bulletin.  It was something I had not considered before—“why does God allow the devil to go about the world tempting men and women to sin?—why didn’t God just confine the devil to hell immediately after his fall from grace?”  After a lot of reading, I still don’t have a very precise answer, and certainly not one that I would dare call “authoritative.”  But this morning at Matins I read something. written at the beginning of the fifth century by Saint Augustine, that seems to be on target, and answers some small part of the question.[1]

    In the reading, Saint Augustine commented on the fifty-fourth Psalm.  Now, the Psalms were written roughly a thousand years before Christ, but like a number of Old Testament passages, it is easy to imagine the words of King David, the Psalmist, coming from the lips of the suffering Jesus Christ.

Harken, O God, to my prayer; turn not away from my pleading; * give heed to me, and answer me.

I rock with grief, * and am troubled at the voice of the enemy and the clamor of the wicked.

For they bring down evil upon me, * and with fury they persecute me.

My heart quakes within me; * the terror of death has fallen upon me.

Fear and trembling come upon me, * and horror overwhelms me,

    We might ask ourselves: “Why was King David persecuted?” and even more to the point we must ask “Why was Jesus Christ persecuted?”  And, on a personal level, we will probably ask: “Why do I face trials and persecutions in this world?  Maybe even more to the point, we can ask the question: “Why does God allow sinners in the world?  Why doesn’t he just remove them so that they will do no more damage to His faithful ones.

    Saint Augustine answers the question in this way.  He says:

    Do not think that evil men are in this world for nothing, or that God draws no good from them.  Every evil man lives on, either that he may be corrected, or that through him the good may be tried.

    He tells us that this is an important reason to pray for our enemies, to bless them and not curse them.  For, if things go properly, they will be corrected, and converted, and will become our brothers and sisters.

    And even if sinners are not corrected, God gives us the grace to withstand the trials that they place upon us.  God gives us the grace to prove our loyalty to Him, to prove our relative goodness by making God’s will our own will even in the face of difficulty.  Perhaps this is the reason why the devil is given a measure of freedom, which will end only near the end of time and our final judgment.

    After all, we really would not have much of an opportunity to prove our holiness to God if we were never tempted; if we never experienced any of the trials and tribulations of living in the world.  I world without hurricanes, and war, and famine, and sickness;  a world without theft, and lies, and violence, and lust sounds very idyllic—something we all would love to see.  But this idyllic world would produce no heroes, and very few clearly holy men or women.  Adversity is the crucible in which we are tried by fire.  A look at the history of the Church, or the civilization in which we live, will reveal large numbers of average people who demonstrated great strength and goodness by rising to the test given by natural or moral evil in their midst.

    Today is Holy Thursday.  We celebrate our Lord’s most blessed Sacrament of His body and blood, and the institution of His priesthood.  The vestments are white, the bell rings for the Glória, the mood is festive when compared with the rest of Lent.  On this very night, almost two thousand years ago, our Lord took the bread and wine which accompanied the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb—bread made of the finest wheat available, and wine of the best grapes—and changed the substance of that bread and wine into His entire body and blood;  His humanity and divinity.  He ordered His Apostles to do the same thing as He had done, “proclaiming His death until He comes again.”[2]

    On this very night He replaced the old priesthood and the old covenant of animal sacrifices with a new priesthood and the new covenant in the Sacrifice of the perfect Victim and most pure Blood.  He offered Himself, once, and for all, to atone for sin and to give the graces by which sinners can be converted into good and holy men and women.  His priests, doing what He did, would make that unique Sacrifice present for people yet to be born, all over the earth, until the end of the ages.

    On Passion Sunday, I asked you to pay particular attention to the connection between the Last Supper and the Cross.  “Take and eat, this is My body which shall be given up for you,” He said, and within a few hours it was given up to those who sought His life.  “This is My blood of the new covenant which shall be shed for many in remission of sins,” He said, and in a few more hours it was shed as He was nailed to the Cross and as His side was pierced with a lance.  Please keep these realities firmly in mind tonight and tomorrow when we will commemorate the events of our Lord’s crucifixion and death.  Pay close attention to their connection.

    In the Preface of the Holy Cross, which we read tonight we will hear the words that:

    God set the salvation of mankind upon the tree of the Cross, so that whence came death, thence also life might rise again, and that he who overcame by the tree [the devil] might also be overcome on the tree; through Christ our Lord.

    We are witnessing the trial of Jesus Christ by the devil and by sinners.  The tree which yielded the fruit of mankind’s fall, at the instigation of the devil, in the garden of Eden, has become the wood of the Cross.  With hindsight, we know that Jesus Christ will triumph over all evildoers—both men and angels.  They will put Him to death on the wood of the Cross—but in doing so they will complete the Sacrifice of the new covenant, which we will offer together with our Lord, who will rise form the dead, as the perfect price for our sins.  In His trial, Jesus Christ will be victorious over sin and evil.

    The Cross, the symbol of our salvation ought to be on prominent display in every Catholic home.  Visitors should see that we are devoted to the tree of life and not to the sword.  When and where we pray, it should be convenient to look up and see the image of our Lord and the symbol of the new and everlasting covenant with mankind.

    The Cross, which in ancient times, was a symbol of criminal shame, is now “imprinted upon the foreheads of kings,” as Saint Augustine wrote, “though enemies once insulted it.  Its effects have witnessed to its power.  It has subdued the world, not by the sword, but by the tree.”[3]

    Paradoxically, though, in our own times we again see people who pretend to take great offence at the sight of the Cross.  But we must pray for the conversion of sinners, and not their demise.  We must take the lesson from Saint Augustine, not cursing them nor hating them, but rather praying for their conversion, “for every evil man lives on, either that he may be corrected, or that through him the good may be tried



[1]   Second Nocturn of Holy Thursday, Augustine, Treatise on Psalm liv.

[2]   Cf. I Corinthians xi: 23-26.

[3]   Augustine, ibid.


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