The Heart of Evil

Douglas P. McManaman
Homily: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 9, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

The first reading from Isaiah, chapter 55, is a very hopeful reading. The word that goes forth from the mouth of the Lord shall not return to Him void and empty, but shall accomplish His will, achieving the end for which He sent it.

Despite the evil we might see all around us and throughout history, our life in the world is a process, as sowing seed and the generation of new life is a process, and it is one that is completely under God's control. Think back to the story of the Exodus. The Pharaoh would not let Israel go; he refused and kept refusing. But the Scriptures tell us that it was God who hardened the heart of Pharaoh. That is a very important point. The Pharaoh chose to harden his heart to God's demands, and yet God hardened his heart, and so the Pharaoh would not let the Hebrews go out into the desert to worship.

There's no doubt that the Pharaoh freely chose not to let Israel go, but the idea that God hardened the Pharaoh's heart underscores the fact that the heart of Pharaoh is in the hands of God. In other words, God is not helpless in the face of evil. The hearts of everyone, including the most evil among us, are under the providential hand of God. God has dominion over the human heart. This is very mysterious. It is a mystery too great for the human mind to fathom, but although God does not will evil, whatever God allows to happen, He allows it for our greatest happiness and His greater glory. We may not understand now, but we will understand later, just as we may not understand a novel that we have just begun to read, but we will understand it to some degree at the end, when we finish reading.

The parable of the sower, the first of Christ's parables, describes four different kinds of people, four types of hearts, if you will; four kinds of ground that receive the seed that the sower sows. God is in control of all four kinds. The first type is represented by the seed sown on the path, worn down by human traffic, and so the ground has become hard, like the edge of a farmer's field where people walk. The heart is hardened, and so it fails to understand the word that is sown. The evil one comes and removes what was sown.

That is why it is so important to study the faith we profess, to grow in our understanding of it. This is especially the case for young people. The heritage that is ours in the Church is profoundly rich; it is an ocean, too vast for us to comprehend in all its detail. But we need to study it and to continually grow in our understanding of that faith, and the resources are there today, in ways that we did not have when we were young. There are all sorts of Scripture programs on YouTube, Bishop Barron's videos, Church history, papal writings, podcasts and so much more. If we neglect to study our faith, the evil one will have no problem removing what was sown, as a bird eats the seed that falls on the hard path. We pay a dear price for intellectual laziness.

And then we have the seed sown on rocky ground. This is the person who loves novelty, receives the word immediately, but it has no depth. You can even include the opportunist in this. They receive the word at once with joy, and it appears they are devout and genuine, but it's not genuine. It's a love of religion for what religion can do for me. But if religion brings hardship and persecution, the faith is quickly abandoned. Just as difficult times reveal who your true friends are, so too difficult times reveal those whose faith is genuine. I follow Robert P. George on Twitter, a professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton. He tweeted this the other day:

I sometimes ask students what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery and worked tirelessly against it.

Of course, this is nonsense. Only the tiniest fraction of them, or of any of us, would have spoken up against slavery or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them - and us - would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefited from it.

So I respond by saying that I will credit their claims if they can show evidence of the following: that in leading their lives today they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice whose very humanity is denied, and where they have done so knowing:

That was a wonderful message. People today speak up for causes that are safe, but they are silent on those that are unsafe. And of course, Professor George is referring here particularly to abortion, where the humanity of the unborn is denied. How many will risk their jobs, risk peer rejection, and ridicule for the unborn? The answer is obvious. Very few. The majority will only begin to do so when it pays to do so, when it means a job or a promotion.

This kind of disingenuousness also exists in the Church. There were periods in our history when particular societies were fervently Catholic, almost everyone went to Mass, teachers, principals, court judges, journalists, etc. All seemed to have embraced the fundamental teachings of the faith. But how much of that was genuine? How much of that was a matter of keeping your job, a matter of peer acceptance? How much of it was a genuine love of the faith? How much of that apparent fidelity and devotion would endure the fire of persecution. We have our answer. What we see today, all around us, is the answer to that question. The new orthodoxy that rewards fidelity is no longer Catholicism, but an ever-changing version of postmodernism.

And then there is the seed sown among the thorns, the one who hears the word, but worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word, and it bears no fruit. These are the people whose hearts are focused on the treasures of this world, not on the eternal treasures of the life to come. These are the people who fear death, who love their lives in this world too much. And that's why it is so important to remind ourselves of the reality of death. I know of a number of homicide investigators who, like St. Jerome, have skulls on their desks, to remind them that this day could be their last, and that life here is passing. It's not permanent. We were created for eternal life. No matter how pleasurable our life might become here, one day it will all be a distant and faded memory, having less reality than a puff of smoke.

Tying this in to the first reading, we don't have to fear the evil that is in the world, evil that springs from one of these three descriptions of the human heart, but we do have to pray that God is shaping our hearts to be the rich soil, disposed to receive his word, to listen to it and to cooperate with it, to accept our tiny place in this very long and complex history so that He may do with us what He wills, to achieve His purpose.

And finally, although the hearts of all are in the hands of God, we have been given some power over the heart of God. We can pray that He change the hearts of those for whom we pray. He said: "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Anyone who asks receives, anyone who seeks, finds. What father among you would give his son a stone if he asked for a loaf of bread. If you, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will my heavenly Father give good things to those who ask".