SINNERS WHO DO GREAT THINGS

SINNERS WHO DO GREAT THINGS May 24, 2019

And no one lived happily ever after.  That’s what I got out of eight seasons of Game of Thrones–that awful parable for our time.  It’s a storyline with no heroes, no hope, and the constant, unremitting triumph of death and evil.  Humans defined only as sinners.  But how surprisingly appropriate for our times.  In this millennium, evil conquers everything.

Commit Sin; Go To Hell

Know how I know this?  The New York Yankees cast the soul of Kate Smith into hell and won’t let her voice be heard singing “God Bless America” at their home baseball games.  Why?  Apparently to some, she was racially insensitive decades ago, according to our morals now.  Mayor Pete Buttigieg, running for President, thinks the name of Thomas Jefferson should be sand blasted off every school and monument named after the former president.  He believes Jefferson’s eighteenth century morals which permitted him to own slaves can’t past muster today.  Then there are some of our bishops who are scraping off the names of their predecessors from every school and diocesan building because–wait for it–they didn’t handle the issue of sexual abuse as appropriately as our bishops think they should have done.

Every sin, no matter how great or small, seems to wipe out any good that a person has ever accomplished.  This is certainly news to God who, unless I am misinformed, still lets people know that Satan was once Lucifer, the most brilliant, beautiful and bodacious angel ever to have existed even though he ultimately betrayed God and now spends his days in Hades.  Yet God still considers him one of his greatest creations.  If we don’t appreciate the fallen angel’s original goodness, we can’t comprehend how foolish his embrace of evil.

Hate The Sin; Hate The Sinner

We know better than God. In fact, our world thinks God is rather irrelevant since if he really existed he wouldn’t allow evil.  Whenever we are particularly bothered by someone’s bad deeds, we get together a mob and destroy anything good that person did and the memory of the person who did it.  Let’s think of some bad hombres besides Confederate generals.  How about one modern and one ancient.

I’ve never liked Michael Jackson.  Hated his music, videos and voice.  Looks like I’m in a good place with the world with this belief.  Michael just may be a pedophile and guilty of some pretty heinous stuff.  Hollywood is dragging its feet on coming to this conclusion, but enough people have made up their minds that some music moguls, radio stations, etc. are banning his music and never mentioning his name. The King of Pop Who?  Like I said, I can’t stand him.  But I’m not stupid.  He was a genius.  His music was stellar, his dancing innovative beyond belief, his videos epic.  But I’m told all that doesn’t count, because Michael Jackson also seems to be a sinner par excellence.

Then there’s Caravaggio who lived about 1600 A. D.  Truly a disreputable person.  He was a murderer and nobody ever has said anything positive about his personality.  Just a sketchy kind of guy, but a major painter for the ages.  He is perhaps the most popular artist in people’s opinions today.  Thousands line up for hours to see this dead painter’s works.  He died lost and alone, but his masterpieces of art have allowed millions to see beyond this world and touch the face of God.  But I guess that doesn’t count either.  Because he did evil things.

Transcending A Sinner’s Own Darkness

Here’s why the world is wrong to think that way.  Hint:  Evil isn’t more powerful than good.  In fact, evil is just a response to good, and a bad one at that.  In the end, there is only good; there is only God.  As Sister Jean Marie, RSM, my grade school principal, taught me, God doesn’t make trash.  Whatever choices Caravaggio made to darken his soul, when he painted, he communicated with God, and for a moment God lifted up that man to create something exquisitely beautiful.  When the artist allowed God to act within him, Caravaggio transcended his own darkness and became the human being he was meant to be.

I’d like to think that happened to Michael Jackson too, who often appeared a lost soul except when he sang or danced and created music that will never die.  Nobody really thinks Kate Smith was evil.  To silence her voice just seems petty.  And the noble Thomas Jefferson transcended his own human frailties when he wrote of freedom and helped create the greatest democratic republic that ever existed. I don’t know about the Confederate generals who sold their souls to the South, or the bishops who for so many years have mishandled the sexual abuse crisis.  I only know they were and are as flawed and as much of a mixture of good and evil as the rest of us. Nobody excuses anyone’s evil deeds but are they the sole measure of one’s worth?

Good Deeds Let In God; Creativity Transcends A Sinner’s Evil

Do we have to extinguish the individual lights of humanity because they don’t shine as brightly as we think they should?  Should we taint the good things individuals do when we discover people’s sinfulness?  Must we use their foibles, their weaknesses, their bad decisions to elevate the darkness of evil in this world to such an extent that goodness disappears from the awareness of humanity?  We have become such a people of despair.  We’ve forgotten that the good things we flawed humans do create the thin places in reality where God communicates with us.  The communication that happens between God and individuals in these thin places lets us know that we are supposed to walk with angels, not stay stuck in the muck of our own failings.

Judging Only the Bad In Humanity

Do you remember the Jewish legend of the golem?  A rabbi created a semblance of a human being from the mud and mire.  But it was a monster, because it had no soul, because it was made of darkness not light.  Whenever we raise our sinfulness, the horrors that humans can do, to supersede any goodness we create, we forfeit our humanity.  In the legend, when the golem was defeated, it became mud once again.  The more we seek to treat the sinners among us as golems–things to be wiped away like dust in the wind–the less human all of us will be.  If that happens, we’ll never touch God again, and beauty will be gone, like our humanity, from this world.

UPDATE MAY 29, 2019

In the past several days, the Western Press, minus United States outlets, have covered the sensational story of The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sexual failings.  The FBI apparently recorded him extensively and documented at least forty affairs, participation in orgies and encouraging and being present at the rape of a parishioner.  Some of this has been known before but David Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize Winning biographer of King, has published an article which gives much more detail and explanation.

  Check https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7071713/FBI-tapes-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-40-affairs-laughed-friend-raped-parishioner.html

Suffice it to say, the credible allegations fit my above article well.  Mr. Garrow’s article was rejected by the Washington Post and The Atlantic and few in the United States Press are willing to address the issue.  There does seem to be some truth here and so the question has to be raised if the Rev. King’s sinfulness obviates his great success in Civil Rights.  Can he still be an icon?  Catholicism sees all as sinners.  If we accept the reality of evil in us, must we not also accept the good? 

 

 

About Monsignor Eric R. Barr, STL
Monsignor Barr is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. In his 35 years of priesthood, he has been pastor, principal, teacher, Vicar for Clergy and Vicar General. He is a former associate editor of a newspaper and a novelist. He speaks on Celtic Theology and Current Catholic Issues. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bigbigmjfan Michael

    Sad article.

  • PhillipWynn

    A lot of good stuff here, Monsignor, though I found your update on King a bit confusing, because it almost reads like the new info DOES invalidate what he said and did. Could you clarify?

    Yes, we tend to forgive sinners their sins, because we expect nothing more of them; but a saint’s least transgression condemns the whole. Despite what we say, we really can’t stand heroes, because they reveal to us our own shortcomings; therefore they must be knocked down to our level. But, hey, at least it sells rags like the National Enquirer, so at least somebody makes money off it!

  • bill wald

    No generation since Eve opted her way out of the Garden has “lived happily ever after.” World history is war history, not peace history. The few short peaceful years are simply intermissions.

  • Lark62

    I think there needs to be a consideration of what a person is known for, and how they used their power.

    Thomas Jefferson is honored, and should be, for his contributions to our secular democracy. He was born in a time and place where people owned other human beings. He did not choose that, and he personally wanted to free his slaves, but he wasn’t strong enough and/or rich enough. He is not being honored for his slavery or for his relationship with Sally Hemings.

    Compare that to the statues of confederate generals that were put in place to honor the subject’s role in trying to preserve slavery. There is nothing admirable or redeeming there.

    Humans aren’t good at subtlety and nuance, but we need to try.

    What a person does with the world they were born into matters. Jefferson wanted to free his slaves, but did not manage it. I recently read a quote from George Washington where he was whining about the cost of giving his slaves one meager set of clothing per year. All I can feel toward the man is contempt, because that reflects on his selfish treatment of people wholly dependent on him. But I have no desire to remove Washington’s name from cities, states, schools and parks.

    Honoring a person for actions that were admirable is appropriate, until the weight of the bad outweighs the good. When a person uses that which he deserves to be admired for for evil, that can tip the balance. Michael Jackson used his immense talent to g-room young boys and their families. This taints his talent

    The fact that MLK was a philanderer is old news. This is a touchy subject because this was used 50 years ago in a attempt to bring MLK down. Is there something new? Adults have s x. Lots of adults have s x with people they are not married to. Whether one thinks they should or shouldn’t, this hardly makes a person exceptional. If both parties can and do consent, we should mind our own business and move on.

  • Lark62

    The FBI wanted to bring MLK down. The FBI under Hoover was not above creating evidence against those Hoover viewed as enemies. If they had evidence of a felony, why didn’t they use it then? This needs a lot more corroboration and evidence from sources more reliable than the Daily Mail.