I've been immersed in a lot of suffering and death over the last several days, both in my country and in my little sphere of friends and family. What stands out in review is that tragic circumstances bring out the best selves in some people and the worst in others. There are days when I look around me, and then ultimately in the mirror and ask, "Is there any good man?" and the answer comes back, "No, not one." What a sorry lot we are, when ten minutes after finding out about a massive national rupture, a dangerous and unfinished debacle, our first instinct is to start blaming, speculating on what horrid behavior "the other" will engage in, and feathering a nest for confirmation of our own pre-existing theories about the good and evil teams of the world.
I looked online for homilies about the parable of the good Samaritan. It's always encouraging to me, and a reminder that Jesus wants us to ask ourselves just who our neighbor really is. I find the answers spin outward in concentric circles. To some people, there really isn't any neighbor. They are looking out for number one, and the only ally is someone who backs up their agenda or feeds their ego in some way, family and a few like-minded friends included. Then there are those who do truly care for neighbors, providing that the neighbor is somewhat similar to them, and certainly safe to be around. Moving outward, we see the Samaritan, and we see what Jesus' standard is: our neighbor is everybody, and by that Jesus means EVERY ONE. That includes those we don't trust, those we don't particularly like, those who are opposed to us, and those who are intent on our destruction.
Now, of course, and it hardly needs to be said, this does not mean that I should lay myself down in the middle of the street and let someone run his car over my head because he is my neighbor and this would satisfy his desire to kill. That wouldn't be loving my neighbor, because it would be encouraging and perpetuating his sin. As I've discussed before on this blog, a Christian may not EVER encourage, assist in, celebrate, condone, or turn a blind eye to sins that Jesus was tortured and died for. EVER. So you've called a sin a sin. Now what?
After you've identified a sin, you call it what it is and rebuke the sinner. Sometimes the truth and nature of the sin is so obvious that "calling out" is not necessary, but we must always be clear in our minds about what sin is. Then what? Well, these are things we do NOT do: we do not glory in the sin or hope for the suffering and damnation of the sinner. We do not puff ourselves up in our gratitude and pride that WE and everyone who thinks the way WE do could never commit such a sin. We do not mock and laugh at the sinner, or torture the sinner, or do anything to FURTHER erode his or her innate human dignity, which has already been compromised by his or her sin.
What we DO is: pray for the sinner. Find ways to learn from the sinner. Find sins in ourselves that resemble on some level the sin that the sinner committed. Find someone around us who may be at risk for sinning and try to catch him or her before the fall. Live as an example of uprightness, kindness, mercy, peacefulness, forgiveness, and fairness.
Justice will be served, and we know this because God is justice itself. God is all good things, and justice is a good thing. God will provide what is needed for the victims of a horrible sin, and He will provide what is needed for the sinner. We have temporal means as well to deal with sinners who have violated laws and/or personal boundaries. But God Himself has told us that vengeance belongs to HIM, not to us. We are not to take our big ball of imperfect emotional idea of justice from the middle of our guts and hurl it at the sinner, thinking somehow we are carrying out God's divine justice. That is not the way it works, and we better be glad it's not, because in about three minutes it will probably be YOUR turn to sin again. And you don't want the justice of imperfect men, do you? You want the merciful and perfect justice of God.
What I have found perhaps most beneficial about being Catholic, in a practical, real life way, is the daily self-examination. I present this analogy: in my bathroom, I have an 8x magnifying mirror. It's great for tweezing eyebrows, and great for keeping me humble. Because I see my face for what it really is, aging, imperfect, temporary. It doesn't make me beat my breast and want to go out and get Botox. It actually makes me feel free. It's just a face. I'm not keeping it forever. I won't need it where I hope to be going. The daily examination of conscience works kind of the same way. Don't just look at your behavior and your thought patterns in a fuzzy, faraway, or cursory way. Look at your heart and your intentions, your words and your acts, in an 8x magnifying mirror. Now you don't look so hot. Now you get that Scripture was right. No, not a good man, not even one.
But you don't have to turn away from the examination of conscience and go wear a hair shirt. You can take a few steps that are more constructive. Confess your sins and receive absolution. Then go about the work of implementing a two-pronged plan. Avoid the occasions of sin, and use your newly found humility ('cause if you do Confession right, you're going to come out humbled) to aid you in loving your neighbor. That is, after you've identified correctly and Biblically just who your neighbor is.
Is there anyone out there who is not my neighbor? Anyone so repugnant and evil that he does NOT deserve my prayers? Anyone who is thinking and living so contrary to the Law of God that surely she is worthy of my scorn and hatred? Anyone so stained by sin that Jesus would surely pat me on the back for spitting on this person, laughing at this person, refusing my heart's mercy to this person? Is there anyone at all who is so damnable and laughable and horrible that this soul is beyond forgiveness and redemption?
No, not one.