– Rev José Mario O. Mandía
Evil is a reality that we need to learn to face, to accept, and to sanctify. Learning to do this is, in fact, a lifetime task. Many spend their lives complaining about evil, or running away from it, or making it as an excuse for passivity or laziness. But, as Saint Josemaría argued, “if suffering is always there for us poor creatures, what can it be but stupidity to waste it?” (Furrow 997)
Some people make a living from the things that other people consider useless; they generate cash from trash. What happens in earthly affairs can also work in the spiritual life. We can convert what is apparently useless or even harmful into something of great value. Our Lord Jesus Christ showed us the way: on the Cross, He seemed vanquished, but in reality it was He who vanquished evil: He turned a loss into a profit.
Physical evil can be an occasion for good.
It gives us an opportunity to help others and be of service to them. When we come to the assistance of those in need, we are actually serving Jesus Christ Himself: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
Physical evil can become a stimulus for personal growth and maturity. We have heard stories of many successful people who had to overcome poverty, physical defects, discrimination, repeated failure and who later inspired and guided many others with their example.
Physical evil is a means of spiritual purification. Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan narrated how he could not understand why God would let him languish in prison while many of his people were left without a shepherd. He eventually realized that God made use of his isolation to speak to him and make him see that he had been so engrossed in the “work of the Lord” but had neglected the “Lord of the work.” Imprisonment freed him from the presumption of thinking that he was the main protagonist in the salvation of souls. “Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10).
Physical evil is a way by which God can test whether our goodness is authentic. “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6-7). It is easy to say we believe, until we face a situation where God seems nowhere to be found. It is easy to say we love, until an unreasonable person crosses our path.
Joseph Tissot wrote a book based on the teaching of Saint Francis de Sales: How to profit from your faults. Yes, we can also profit from our sinfulness. Our sins actually help us to be more humble, to realize that we are not perfect, that we have need of repentance and God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (II Corinthians 12:7-9).