As a criminologist, I’ve dealt with my fair share of horrific things. I’ve been plunged deep into the evils of this world and I’ve seen evil stare me straight in the face. No, literally, I’ve interviewed a serial killer. For my Master’s work I chose to specialize in sexual violence crimes, so you can imagine how joyful that can be. Usually when I tell people what I specialized in, they get uncomfortable and clam up. Nobody knows how to respond to a person who would willingly sign up for that line of work. But, evil must be faced head on and we cannot hide from it or ignore it, because it will continue to spread and grow, eating humanity alive.
I’ve heard the worst of the worst stories, I’ve been with victims in hospital rooms, I’ve been with victims of sexual violence in courtrooms, and just when I thought I’d heard all the bad things, I’d hear a new awful story.
The worst, though, is one day when I was working at a defense attorney’s office, one of the attorneys handed me a thick file and asked me to copy it. He didn’t say anything else to me; didn’t tell me what it was, just handed it off. I trotted back to the copy room and started copying the file. On top, it was all the normal stuff, just boring court documents that I wasn’t really paying attention to. I kind of got into a zone (it was a thick file) and just let my mind wander, until I saw a pair of young eyes staring up at me from one of the papers I was copying. I froze in utter shock. I cannot tell you how awful it was, but there on the page was child pornography. Like in a movie, I backed away from the copier and just sort of reeled for a few moments. My heart pounded so hard, I could feel it hitting my ribs. Then cautiously, I walked over to the remaining stack and gently lifted up the rest of the papers and all the rest were hundreds of pictures of precious, innocent children trapped in a sick, sick world. I almost threw up. I quickly picked up the pages, shoved them back into the folder, took them into the attorney, and told him that I would not ever copy anything such as that again.
Those children’s eyes haunt me to this day. I often think of who they were and where they are now. I wanted to grab them all and help them, love them, do something, but that was not possible. It’s an awful thing to have such evil seared into your mind, but there is no getting it out. I know that police, military, EMT’s, firefighters, and the like, have horrible images seared, too, and it’s not an easy thing to carry.
By now, you probably are completely depressed reading this, but I had to share that in order to tell you that there is a remedy; that remedy is beauty and goodness.
My grandmother is naturally very sentimental and emotional. In her way, she taught me how to seek and find beauty in this world. Without forcing, she immersed my cousins and me in plays, books, poetry, worthwhile movies, unique shops and restaurants, and beautiful art. In my grandmother’s house, there are paintings in her living room of women of all ages. Just beautiful, lovely paintings that celebrate the beauty of women. She has tea cups galore and, as kids, we used to dress up in her clothes and have fancy tea parties, complete with candles. She showed us movies that were worth something and had deep, purposeful meaning. She would put me and my cousins in the car and drive us for what seemed like hours just to get to a special restaurant that she’d read was good. I realize now that everything that is meaningful to her, she wanted to give to us. She has always sought out the beautiful, the unique, the special. I love that she has shared that with me.
I look around and so much of our entertainment anymore is lacking anything substantial, good, true, or beautiful. Frankly, we consume filth on a daily basis, so much so that it no longer shocks us. Our music is baseless and bland. I mean, how many times can you hear in a country music song about driving down to the river with a pretty girl to drink some beer by the moonlight? Our movies are unimaginative and predictable. They are full of sex, violence, cuss words, and vulgarity that is just there because our threshold of tolerance to this stuff is so high it barely registers anymore. Pornography use is rampant. We all stare at our screens zoned out lost in mindless games of Candy Crush and anything else that will preoccupy our minds so that we don’t want to “adult” today. Our buildings lack beauty and creativity. Everything is just “do it as fast as you can and make as much money as you can!” Songs are beat to death on radio and then discarded never to be heard from again. Movies are pumped out at lightening speed only to meet empty movie theaters and last there for a couple of weeks before the next “NEW!” and “BIG!” thing comes along. We are all ear-plugged up and have no idea how to be still and silent.
So what’s my point? At the beginning, I told you that what I chose for a degree has led me to hear, see, and experience evil. I knew that it would and I was willing to take that risk, because sometimes we have to go into the fire to fight it. What I didn’t fully understand is that evil has to be combated with beauty and goodness. It must or we sink. I was taught at an early age where to find beauty and to seek it. Also, as a Christian, I know that all goodness and beauty comes from God. When I see a gorgeous sunset, I know that’s God. When I hear my favorite song by John Hiatt, I know his gift is from God. When I read a classic book like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I know that’s God, because the goodness makes me cry. When I walk into an awe-inspiring cathedral, I know the inspiration came from God. When I’m in my grandmother’s home surrounded by all her beautiful things, I know that’s God.
I have some pretty bad mental pictures in my mind from my days of work. To stay sane, I had to seek out the good and beautiful; I had to smother evil. My fear, though, is that we are losing that in our quest for money and entertainment. More chilling, however, is that we have gotten used to evil and it doesn’t even shock us anymore. We can’t let that happen. The moment that evil becomes normal to us and is our status quo, we are sunk in the deep with no life raft and sharks are circling. Our lives should be so immersed in goodness, truth, light, love, and beauty, that when evil encroaches we know immediately. Immediately. We should go, “Whoa, this is not okay, this needs to stop. We must fight this.” I fear we don’t anymore. We don’t reel to evil like I did that day in the copier room. We are mostly indifferent, slightly ticked at best, and then we pick our phones back up again.
I am very intentional with my life and my family. My husband and I teach our kids how to find beauty and we also teach them what evil looks like, as well. To teach them beauty, we explore nature, review everything we watch on t.v., play meaningful music, read excellent books with them, visit amazing shrines and churches, and seek out the unique and the special. I want them to feel–really feel. I want them to be immersed with their senses in things that are of God, so that they know what is good and right. It takes work because we are fighting against our culture. I think it takes more work than it used to, because we are bombarded in so many different avenues, but like I told my kids sometimes when they were little and acting up, “I will outlast you.” A momma’s strength is never so evident as when she is fighting to protect her children’s souls. I will outlast the culture. That means, though, that we have to be looking after our own souls.
Our culture is spoon-feeding disguised sewer sludge and I have to tell you, it ain’t good for us. As Christians, one of our biggest jobs is to fight evil, but we can’t do that if we don’t recognize it anymore. Our lives cannot attain true happiness when we are not tapped into the source of all beauty and goodness. We must seek God out, invite Him into every aspect of our lives, and He will always lead us to truth, goodness, beauty, light, and love. We will have to confront evil in this life, but we can only smother it if the rest of our lives look different than what we are fighting against.
St. Michael, the archangel, pray for us.