Summary: If there is evil in our lives, God has to permit it to happen, or it wouldn’t. But God never wills evil. He only wants our good.
Thursday of 27th Week in Course 2017
Who among us has not looked on some captain of industry or some venal politician and wondered why “evildoers not only prosper but when they put God to the test they escape.’” as the people did in Malachi’s day? Sometimes it does seem vain to serve the Lord. We hear cynical expressions like “a good deed never goes unpunished” and sometimes wonder if they are true. But Malachi has the answer. This life is not all there is to our existence. This is just a bad night in a cheap hotel, as St. Theresa taught. We will be the Lord’s on the day when He does act, when He does judge the earth and all who are in it. And those who have fed the hungry and clothed the naked and prayed for the living and the dead, those who have accepted the grace of God and acted on it shall be saved, rewarded, and raised from the dead.
To understand what went wrong in the Church in the late middle ages, what brought about Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and the rest, we’ve been looking at the world situation during the Hundred Years War. That’s the fourteenth century. I’ve told you that the Little Ice Age had brought on famine and disease, and that the loss of many good Catholic scholars to those evils had led to a decline in philosophy and theology, evidenced by the half-baked writings of John Wycliffe. But the widespread disease and death had a religious effect we need to understand.
Today, if we wake up in the morning and feel good, chances are very good that we’ll be tired but healthy in the evening. But in the thirteen hundreds, if one woke up feeling good in the morning, there was a nontrivial chance that by the end of the day he’d have horrible boils or buboes all over his body and wouldn’t wake up at all the next day. The plague struck that quickly, and nobody knew what to do about it other than burn down the house and everything in it. Now we know all that did was drive the rats and fleas into another house.
So it was pretty easy for someone to die without the sacraments. You’ve seen that Wycliffe responded to this widespread death by telling people it was God’s judgement on sin, especially the sins of the clergy. He expected the end of the world before the year 1400. The reality is that the role of Jesus as judge of the living and the dead, a role we celebrate every time we profess our faith, came into highlight. Jesus, our merciful Savior, morphed into an angry Judge Roy Bean of heaven. He was to be feared, not loved. People lived in fear of Jesus and His judgement, which on earth looked like the Black Death.
We can locate at least two major responses to this warping of theological outlook: the first is the establishment of societies and burses that prayed for the release of ancestors from Purgatory. People would set aside funds to establish a perpetual endowment of a group of priests who would offer Masses for the dead. We request Masses for the dead today, especially for our relatives, but it was going on a great deal back in the age of the plague.
The second is that popular piety began to shift toward asking the Blessed Virgin to intercede with Jesus for mercy on sinners. The last part of the Hail Mary documents that trend. If Jesus was seen as judge rather than merciful Savior, go to His mommy and ours and ask her to petition her Son for relief. Now there is nothing wrong with asking Mary to intercede for us, but it was an aberration to start believing that Jesus was not all merciful and all forgiving. But remember that before science had isolated the cause of the plague, most people did believe it was a punishment for sin, and in some sense, God’s doing.
Today’s Gospel tells us the truth. If there is evil in our lives, God has to permit it to happen, or it wouldn’t. But God never wills evil. He only wants our good. So when we ask, He always answers our prayer. Maybe it’s not what we think we need. Maybe we ask for healing of our body but get healing of our emotions or our mental attitude, if we are open to it. But the promise of Jesus is clear: if we know how to give good things to our kids, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit, which is the only gift we really ever need.