Q: Does turning the other cheek mean I have to be nice to relatives who have been purposefully cruel or ugly to people I care about? That feels false, particularly when someone has been repeatedly unkind. How do I handle seeing these people at family events or in public?
Some people say you have to keep them in your life because they are relatives, but I would rather not because their behavior seems evil to me. (Charleston, SC)
A: This is one of those questions that pierces the heart. Let’s begin with saying “yes” and “no.” Yes, we have to show a merciful spirit to people, even those who are mean to us or to people we love. Our mercy actually frees us from the evil that’s being done and gives the other person the opportunity to free himself from evil. Remember, we fight evil and darkness, not people. We hope for the conversion of all, and hope that our mercy and kindness may assist in the other person’s conversion.
With that said, and realizing that two healthy people are needed for a healthy relationship, we can also say “no.” Even as we show mercy to those who hurt us or the ones we love, we can also charitably avoid them.
This, of course, could include even family members and relatives. Even as we wish others the best, we can steer clear of them. As the old saying goes: “May you keep them Lord, and keep them far from me!”
This approach is not two-faced since we legitimately give mercy and kindness to the person who is hurting us or our loved ones. We really want the person to change, but so long as the person refuses to change and continues to cause harm, then we must respectfully avoid that person since each of us has a dignity given by God that we have to respect, and require others to respect as well.
Q: What exactly is evil? We hear a lot about evil from religions, we see extremes of evil in the news with wars and terrorism, but what does it look like in daily life? (Charleston, SC)
A: The question of evil hits home. Admittedly, there is a wall and a mystery that surrounds it. Why do bad things happen? Why do they happen to good people? Why do otherwise good people sometimes do bad things? And the questions go on and on.
In the midst of such an array of questions, the Christian tradition’s best answer to the question of evil is the Paschal Mystery, that is the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
On Calvary, Jesus Christ took upon himself all the sin and evil of the world and he destroyed its power over us. This means that evil does not define reality and it does not have the last word. As we look at our faith, we see this truth manifested as the evil of the passion and cross are followed by the glory of the resurrection.
And so, even as evil causes real harm and possibly immense suffering, its power has been overcome and vanquished. Good will win. As we see this reality played out in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so we can see the potential of it playing out in our own lives and in our world.
This is not to diminish or trivialize suffering, whether it’s caused by humanity, such as through terrorism, religious extremism, racism, or other such evils, or by natural forces, such as bodily ailments or natural disasters.
Our faith gives us hope. We can look through and beyond evil and see a broader horizon. We know that the darkness will be scattered by light. This hope is grounded in the resurrection and in the reality of heaven, and this hope nourishes our faith.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observed: “People struggle with faith because they have forgotten about Heaven.”