With the Fall of Adam sin entered the world, and with sin, death. Worse than physical death is the “second death” (Apoc. 20:14) of eternal damnation. It is from this death, and from sin that leads to it, that Christ came to save us. He who is goodness itself came to conquer the kingdom of evil and share His own goodness with us.
But Our Lord did not vanquish evil all at once so that it nevermore exists. He vanquished it all at once in principle, but that conquest has to be played out over time — with the conversion of one soul at a time. Ironically, one way that the saints participate in Christ’s victory over evil is by bearing with evil. This includes both resisting temptations to commit the moral evil of sin, and bearing patiently with all manner of physical evil as well as the moral evil (or perceived evil) of those with whom we must live in society. To do this rightly demands virtue.
An apposite scriptural passage for considering this is Romans 12:21: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.”
In Lessons from the Charterhouse, Looking on Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and God is Here, I borrowed from different Carthusian books I was reading at the time: They Speak by Silences, The Prayer of Love and Silence, and The Way of Silent Love.
To say that these Carthusians are good spiritual writers is like saying Cecilia Bartoli can sing. Yes, it’s true, but it doesn’t quite do the matter justice.
Having recently begun to read The Meditations of Guigo I, Prior of the Charterhouse, I would like now to share some of Guigo’s many mediations on the subject of overcoming evil by good, some of which obviously took direct inspiration from the passage of Saint Paul. (The numberings are from the edition of the book I have, linked above.)
Some thoughts of my own that came from reflecting on the great Carthusian’s work will follow Guigo’s meditations. I call those thoughts “Rules for Dealing with Bad News.”
Prepare yourself to live in the company of evil people, with your mind unsullied; to do this is to live like an angel. Yet what glory is there in doing this among saints?
How fair an art it is, to overcome evil with good! For opposites are conquered by each other.
Someone who strikes down a wicked man in his iniquity, because he hates iniquity and wants to see it destroyed, deceives himself; when a wicked man dies in his iniquity, his iniquity lasts forever. So someone who hates iniquity must strive to correct the wicked man, and then iniquity itself will perish.
You have been put here as an ensign to turn back the shafts of the enemy, that is, to destroy evil by opposing it with good. Yet you should never render evil for evil, except perhaps as medicine, in which case you are not rendering evil for evil, but good for evil.
It is the virtue of angels to live with vicious people and not to be corrupted by their vices. It is the virtue of the best doctors to live with the sick and mentally ill, and not only to avoid being corrupted in any way themselves, but also to restore them to health.
Those who love the world learn with great effort the art of obtaining and enjoining what they love. Now you want to obtain God, and yet do you not despise the very art by which He is won, that is, to render good for evil?
You must always reflect on what takes place within your own mind; not what others may do, whether they are good or bad, but what you can make of their deeds — in other words, how you can use their deeds, both good and bad, and how much you can profit from them, whether by favoring and helping them, or by having compassion and correcting them. For you draw what is good from all human actions when you are neither lured into favoring them by and of their good deeds, nor deterred from loving them by and of their wicked ones. When that happens, your love is disinterested. To be at peace with people is of no merit unless it be with those not at peace with us.
Do not drive people away, but drive away from them what rightly offends you — that is to say, vice. And do this out of love for them — just as you want for yourself. It is not human nature that offends you, but the vices which impair it. Why probe the bleeding wounds of your own race, unless it is to heal them — as you should your own.
You should be concerned not with what others do, but with what you do. For the person who is of value to all is the one who pays attention not so much to what others do as to what he makes of them and their deeds, whether good or evil. You can bring good from both, but much more particularly and notably from evil.
If you are going to reject evil people, begin with yourself. The good and the evil are raw material from which a just person can bring profit — rejoicing with the former, and having compassion on the latter.
You should want no change of any kind for yourself, except of yourself, in other words, a change in your own knowledge and will. If you must seek changes in other things, you should do so only for their own sakes. Even the evil deeds of other people can be of value to you, if you respond to them as you should.
Thus far Guigo. Now here are my “Rules for Dealing with Bad News”:
1.) Listen calmly and critically to the bad news: calmly, in the sense of not letting your peace fly from you by being overcome with emotion; critically, in the sense of distinguishing the actual facts and truth of the situation from the emotional responses of yourself or of the person informing you of the bad news. Calmness may require silence as the bad news is related, so as to avoid a verbal outpouring that might serve only to confuse the situation for yourself and your interlocutor. Critical listening will require forming questions that cut to the essence of the situation, not things of secondary importance.
2.) In order to distinguish, ask questions. To formulate these, the seven circumstances of scholastic philosophy might help to formulate the questions: quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando (who, what, where, with what assistance, why, how, and when). Take notes, if necessary.
3.) Later, when beyond the immediacy of the bad news, and when circumstances permit, prayerfully reflect on what is actually evil (or bad) in the bad news, and what might rather be good about it. Consider how the evil can be transformed into something good — even if the only good here is the practice of the virtues of patience, long-suffering, perseverance, kindness to malefactors, etc., that might be very difficult in such circumstances. But it is possible that other goods may arise — occasions for practicing other virtues, or opportunities to learn valuable lessons about yourself or others (both friends and enemies). The occasion of turning an enemy into a friend might be one of the goods that comes out of this. It may even be that the goods hidden in this bad news could be the answers to prayers or the unsolicited solutions to other problems that beset you.
4.) After all this, if possible and beneficial, make a “plan of action” to deal with the bad news and give thanks to God.