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Center for Action and Contemplation
Evil Is a Social Reality
Evil Is a Social Reality

Solidarity Is Our Goal

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Father Richard teaches that despite the presence of evil permeating our world, we are invited to commit ourselves to the common good:  

Both Jesus and Paul invite us to live a vulnerable human life in communal solidarity with both sin and salvation. 

  • Neither sin nor salvation could ever be exclusively mine, but both of them are collectively ours
  • Universal solidarity is the important lesson, not private salvation. 
  • Human solidarity is the goal, not “my” moral superiority or perfection. 

I know that doesn’t at first feel like a strategy for successful living, and it is certainly not one that will ever appeal to the upwardly mobile or pure idealists. It first feels like capitulation, but that is not Jesus’ or Paul’s intention at all—quite the opposite. Paul believes he has found a new kind of victory and freedom. He himself calls it “folly” or “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21, 25, 27; 4:10), as it is for most people to this day. He often calls it a “hidden mystery” that only the wise discover. Paul believes there is a hidden, cruciform shape to reality, even revealed in the geometry of the cross (see Ephesians 2:13–22). The world is filled with contradictions, false alternatives, zero-sum games, paradoxes, and unresolvable evils. It is foundationally unjust, yet we must work for justice in order to find our own freedom and create it for others. 

Paul is an utter realist about life on this planet. We must fully recognize and surrender to this foundational reality before we try to think we can repair the world (tikkun olam in Hebrew) with freedom and love. Paul’s insight is symbolized in the scandalous image of a man on the cross, the Crucified God who fully accepts and transforms this tragic human situation through love. If this is the reality to which even God must submit, then surely we must and can do the same. 

By giving ourselves to this primary human absurdity, which shows itself in patience, love, and forgiveness toward all things, we find a positive and faith-filled way through “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” This is not by resolving it or thinking we can ever fully change it, but by recognizing that we are all complicit in this mixed moral universe. This is perhaps the humility that Christians need in their campaigns for social reform. This is “carrying the cross” with Jesus. 

Through this primal surrender and trust, God can use our own cruciform shape for healing and for immense good—and even victory. True healers are always wounded healers and not those who perfectly triumphed over all evil.  

Humans often end up doing evil by thinking we can and must eliminate all evil, instead of holding it, suffering it ourselves, and learning from it, as Jesus does on the cross. This ironically gives us the active compassion we need to work for social change. My acceptance of a cruciform world mirrors my ability to accept a cruciform me. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil?The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2019), 79–80, 81, 83. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Exercise in Grief and Lamentation credits from left to right: Jessie Jones, Jennifer Tompos, Jenna Keiper. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise. 

Story from Our Community:  

For so long I wondered how my traumatic experiences as a combat infantry lieutenant in Vietnam could possibly be of any positive value in my life, or in that of others.… Today, I understand that had I not had these terrible combat experiences, I might have remained who I was. I might never have been humble enough to accept my ongoing 12-step recovery process. Most importantly, I could not have accepted the gift of learning the identity of my True Self: a beloved child of God. After experiencing combat, social ostracism, and addictive self-medicating, I suffered the words and judgment of my peers—even from fellow veterans. But all of it was part of my necessary initiation by and into Reality. I resigned my military career as a conscientious objector, and spent my second career helping build social services programs to be of practical service with others. —Thomas S. 

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