Do Not Do Evil for a Good Cause

By Chris Sparks

Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world ... but for Wales! — Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons.”

The other day, I was wandering the digital wilderness of Facebook when I chanced upon this comment: “We must preserve Christendom, at all costs.”

Now, I have to say that there’s a good sentiment undergirding the post. Christendom at times was a very good thing, aiming at a just order on earth in accordance with the teachings of Christ. Great saints and heroes emerged from Christendom past.

But there are two main problems with this call to action in the present day.

First, Christendom is long gone. Anyone who pretends otherwise hasn’t been paying attention since World War I and the ending of the old European order. Instead, as George Weigel explains brilliantly in his book Evangelical Catholicism, what’s left is Christianity, the Church, the heart and soul of what was once Christendom. In some parts of the world, Christianity and the Church are flourishing — in Asia, Africa, and to a certain extent, Latin America. In other parts of the world, Christianity and the Church are caught in a great storm — in Europe, North America, and the English-speaking world.

So the phrase “We must preserve Christendom, at all costs” is, to a certain extent, ahistorical — as though someone had fallen asleep under Pius IX and awoken yesterday assuming that the foundations of the world were still the same. Indeed, one great literary image of this sort of thing can be found in C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, where Merlin awakes to a world dramatically changed. He knows there’s a great evil that must be fought, and so he suggests in turn that they turn to the king; to the pope; to the Emperor. Yet history has gone on, and the many, many shatterings of Christian communion that have taken place since the times of the legendary King Arthur have placed obstacles in the way of making any such appeals.

The second problem with the phrase “We must preserve Christendom, at all costs” is that it’s rooted in an especially modern error, that is, that we ought to do anything in the name of a good thing.

You hear this error all the time in greater or lesser clarity:

  • Give 100 percent (or 110 percent).
  • Are you willing to do what it takes?
  • Are you fully committed?

And so on. If you really want that job, that big break, that home, that prosperous life — well, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve earthly success.

The sane mind knows that, on a certain level, all such slogans are nonsense. The sane mind knows that all your actions in pursuit of that goal should be legal, moral, and proportionate to the good sought after. That is, only God Himself is worth our 100 percent. If we give 100 percent of ourselves to anything other than God, we’ve made an idol out of it. We need to pursue our goals with prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude — that is, pursue earthly goods with the appropriate means, according to justice, with moderation, using the right amount of effort.

But the slogans are proposed as self-evident truths.

And that path — “anything in the name of” or “whatever it takes” — is a lie.

Christ and His Church forbid us to walk the path of “anything in the name of” something good, even something so good as God Himself. We see in the Gospels Peter taking up his sword to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus rebuking Him (see Jn 18:10-11). We are not to do “whatever it takes” for the Church to have earthly success, but rather to do whatever God wills, even if that means all earthly hope is lost. We are to take up our crosses and follow Jesus, thereby converting the world by our contagious faith and sanctity, not seek to conquer the world and avoid all suffering.

So the Catholic response to “We must preserve Christendom, at all costs” is this: We are forbidden by Christ and His Church from doing evil in the name of good (see Rom 3:8; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1756, 1789). There are prices we are forbidden from paying, even for something so noble as the ideal of Christendom. We may not take the Ring of Power in order to defend Gondor.

The best way to defend Christendom is to become it; as Christ told Peter, those who live by the sword die by the sword.

We defend Christendom effectively and truly when we are contagious Catholics. We preserve Christendom when we are so alive with the Holy Spirit that others around us catch fire.

We can look to the saints for how to go about this. Indeed, our first, best goal in facing all the problems of our times is to turn with trust to the Lord, give Him our whole heart, and strive for sanctity.

Saint Faustina tells us how:

Neither graces, nor revelations, nor raptures, nor gifts granted to a soul make it perfect, but rather the intimate union of the soul with God. These gifts are merely ornaments of the soul, but constitute neither its essence nor its perfection. My sanctity and perfection consist in the close union of my will with the will of God. God never violates our free will. It is up to us whether we want to receive God’s grace or not. It is up to us whether we will cooperate with it or waste it (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1107).

God of great mercy, who deigned to send us Your only begotten Son as the greatest proof of Your fathomless love and mercy, You do not reject sinners; but in Your boundless mercy You have opened for them also Your treasures, treasures from which they can draw abundantly, not only justification, but also all the sanctity that a soul can attain. Father of great mercy, I desire that all hearts turn with confidence to Your infinite mercy. No one will be justified before You if he is not accompanied by Your unfathomable mercy. When You reveal the mystery of Your mercy to us, there will not be enough of eternity to properly thank You for it (Diary, 1122).

So let us give everything to God and refuse to do evil in the name of good. Let us write God a blank check, knowing that He will ask of us only the good, and pour ourselves out in works of mercy, eager for treasure that will last rather than for earthly goods. Let us refuse to be stampeded by fear of change or of the Cross, but rather to cling all the more tightly to Christ and His Church as the times grow ever more difficult. Let us have the confidence of our convictions, asking God for the graces we need in the face of any and every challenge. With the grace of God, all things are possible, and no defeat is final. Every fall may be remedied, every evil overcome, and merciful love triumph over even the most impossible of circumstances.

Jesus, I trust in You!

Pray for me, that I might practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Photo by Nick Coleman on Unsplash

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

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