I sometimes wake up two or three times a night and hear myself say, “Oh, no!” It is not one of those tepid mumbles but a groaning that comes from the depth of the place I do not like to visit often but need to do so. As I get older, I find myself doing this out of character, moaning more frequently, like every night. As is my habit in Lectio Divina (where I am in my maturity), I try to link all of this to the Christ Principle. I find it in Philippians 2:5, and it is my Christ Principle or that against which I measure all reality. I mention this because I have two references from Sacred Scripture that resonate in the depths of my being.
The first example is when Christ is talking to a woman caught in the very act of adultery. Read the whole passage to determine what Jesus is trying to tell us. When I read it for the third time, I said to myself, “The Elders of which Jesus speaks is me. I look at the writing on the ground (my dreams of being a bad person in my past up to this point) and feel what those Elders felt.
1while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.*a2But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.3Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.4They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.5Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.* So what do you say?”b6They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.*7* But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them,c “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”8Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.9And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.10Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”d11She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”]e
The second Scripture that comes to mind is one of my latest attempts at being the penitent Lay Cistercian. I have been making it a habit to stress reparation for my sins as part of my approach to the Sacred. I try to reflect on the Seven Penitential Psalms, usually a different one each day or so. I use them for my meditation (not Lectio Divina). These Psalms are the cry that comes from the depth of a person who knows he has done bad things but realizes that his nature is good and has been redeemed by the penance of Christ on the cross. (You take away the sin of the World, receive my prayer.) Read the De Profundis three times. On the third reading, try to feel what the author feels. It is effective as prayer when you say to yourself “That is how I feel.”
1A song of ascents.
Out of the depths* I call to you, LORD;
2Lord, hear my cry!
May your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.a
3If you, LORD, keep account of sins,
Lord, who can stand?b
4But with you is forgiveness
and so you are revered.*
5 I wait for the LORD,
my soul waits
and I hope for his word.c
6My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak.d
More than sentinels for daybreak,
7let Israel hope in the LORD,
For with the LORD is mercy,
with him is plenteous redemption,e
8And he will redeem Israel
from all its sins.fhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/psalms/130
BEING BAD AND BEING EVIL
I think I am a bad man, not because I go about daily committing sins, but because the connotation of being bad means several things, one or more of which describe how I feel when I look back at my life from the perspective of The Christ Principle. Here are some ways I think I am bad.
I am not evil by nature because what God created is good, not evil in its essence.
I am prone to evil but do not have a fixation on evil, but struggle each day to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus to push back the cobwebs of Original Sin in me. (Philippians 2:5)
Bad means my mental universe in which I live is constantly encroaching on my spiritual universe to drag it back into meaning without The Christ Principle.
Bad means the things I did twenty, thirty, forty, and even fifty years ago were behaviors I am not ashamed of. Ashamed because of how I treated people I respected. Ashamed because of my pride in thinking I was the center of the world (which I am) but not choosing Christ as my center with what that means. Ashamed because I tried to be the center of other peoples’ lives and did not realize what a fool I made of myself.
Bad because I thought I knew all about God and made myself god to others, rather than converting myself daily to move from bad to Christ as my center.
Bad because I thought things and did things without heading the words of St. Benedict in Chapter 4 of the Rule that everything I do, God sees and will be disclosed after I die:
46 Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.
47 Day by day, remind yourself that you are going to die.
48 Hour by hour, keep careful watch over all you do,
49 aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.
50 As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual father. 51Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech.
Bad means I become desensitized to Jesus’ words in Scripture and think that if I just read Scriptures, I don’t need to do what they say I should do to love others as Christ loved me.
Being bad is the default of Original Sin. Baptism takes away Original Sin but leaves the residue of the effects of sin (death, work, pain, suffering, depression, sin, being bad).
Here is a quote that I find compelling and expresses my sentiments about being bad.
“Most people are good and occasionally do something they know is bad. Some people are bad and struggle every day to keep it under control. Others are corrupt to the core and don’t give a damn, as long as they don’t get caught. But evil is a completely different creature, Mac. Evil is bad that believes it’s good.”
― Karen Marie Moning, Shadowfever
The movie Protege uses this quote in a final scene, one that I find compelling as a way to look at being bad and being evil. It resonates with me because I now struggle with being bad and evil in my past life. An insight that came to me was that being bad (I don’t know about being Evil) means I can transform myself from my false self (bad) to that which is my true self (an adopted son of the Father). This habit I have aspired to apply to my daily living is called Conversio Morae (conversion of my life to be more like Christ and less like my bad self).
Evil is when I am tempted to think that there is no Evil or that what is Evil is good. G. K. Chesterton has a quote that I like. He says, “”I don’t need a church to tell me I’m wrong where I already know I’m wrong; I need a Church to tell me I’m wrong where I think I’m right” ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton https://www.azquotes.com/author/2799-Gilbert_K_Chesterton
Evil is not the opposite of good. It is the aberration of what is right, according to God.
Evil does not have the energy to propel us to Heaven, but it has the characteristics that rob our destiny as humans destined for Heaven.
Evil makes a poor center for anyone’s life.
Being bad is the default behavior that causes our center of The Christ Principle to wobble and potentially drift away (temptation).
Being bad is not healthy for someone who aspires to love others as Christ loved us.
Our free will allows humans to choose what is good for us. According to The Christ Principle, what is good for us is bad for us will not make us free at all. Our reason allows us to seek the truth.
Is being bad good? If so, what is evil and what is not? Here is a thought about being bad and being evil. For example, I go to Confession and confess that I committed adultery ten times. The priest gives me a penance of three Hail Mary’s. I think that I got away with murder (or adultery). I should do this more often because no one caught me. In this case, I am a sinful and bad person because I did something God told me not to do (like Adam and Eve did with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). I choose what I think is good for me (adultery). Remember, that evil is doing something bad you know is bad, but you think it is good. There is no conversio morae, no repentance, and no remorse for having offended God. This is evil, the dining room of Satan where he goes about seeking whom he may devour.
The implications of being bad and/or evil clear up some ambiguity about being a penitent Lay Cistercian. I see “bad” as meaning I don’t commit individual sins often, but I am weak in the face of mental challenges to my center, some of which I fail to correct before making a fool of myself. Often, when I express that I am a bad person, my friends from a psychological background of high self-esteem think that I am confused and self-deprecating, which may be partially true. This happens in two dimensions:
THE PAST — I think how utterly insensitive I was to those I worked with. Those instances where I just completely lost it and was bad, but not evil, to family, friends, and colleagues over the years have come back to haunt me. This is why I love to read the Seven Penitential Psalms; they are me. I know that Christ forgives sin and that I can never get rid of the effects of those things that are part of my false self.
THE PRESENT — I am still a bad person because I live in a condition of original sin that sometimes washes over me, but I am more aware of being bad and that I want to move from that bad or false self to a new one life in Christ each day.
Trying to live each day conscious of my conversio morae (weaknesses and flounderings) is more to the front of my Lay Cistercian spirituality. That in all things may God be glorified. –St. Benedict