The twentieth century is now behind us.  What horrors it contained.  The First World War.  The Second World War.  The Holocaust.  Apartheid.  The Siege of Sarajevo.  The Rwanda massacres.  It was a century of progress and also of callous inhumanity.  We tend to focus on the good and on the progress.  The horror side of it is too ghastly to contemplate.  But I have been made to think again by the readings for this weekend and by the parish book club.
Our first reading from Wisdom (2.12, 17-20) was written over 2000 years ago and it could have come straight from a novel of today.  The integrity and honesty of a good man brings out not admiration, but resentment and hatred.  Those who hate him plan to torture and humiliate him, because his very existence is a reproof to their selfishness.  They will execute him to get rid of his challenge to their consciences.  This book of Wisdom was influenced by Greek philosophy, and it is interesting to recall that some 400 years before Jesus, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in the Republic that the truly good man would not care about courting public opinion and so might suffer a terrible death.  Similarly in the gospel today (Mark 9.30-37) we find that Jesus, who knew all things, knew also that his goodness might be hated by the world. 
Most of the time we feel we are in a providential world.  That is to say, we have faith that the world was made good by God, and that even in its harsher, more difficult times, the good is still discernible - in compassion from others, for example, or in charity, or in inner strength which comes from a greater power.  Nevertheless, sometimes it is hard to sustain this belief, and I was made to think of this by the book read this past month by our parish book club:  Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922 by Giles Milton.  This book is about the destruction of Smyrna in a war between Turkey and Greece.  Some 100,000 people were killed, 700,000 were expelled from Turkey and the city destroyed by fire amid terrible scenes of murder, rape and pillage.  Reading the horrors of Smyrna reminded me, rather like the Holocaust, that there are times when good people are swept away powerless in the grip of a great evil.  Here in the UK we learned recently, following a trial, about a youth convicted of murdering an elderly Christian woman who felt sorry for him because he was homeless and took him into her own home.  I cannot make sense of such a murder, any more than I can make sense of Smyrna/Rwanda/Srebenica/Dachau.  It makes me think of original sin, a doctrine frowned upon by our times.  People today prefer to think of human goodness.  But sometimes we glimpse a terrible human capacity for evil which is usually under control, but which, when loosed, shows that human nature is not innately benign.

As for making sense of such horrible things, sometimes all we can do is to remember that our faith includes a cross and that God in Christ, the very embodiment of goodness, did not shun the cross.

Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of Holy Trinity RC Church, Brook Green, London W6.

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