Thought for the week

Who Is Responsible for Evil?

On this October day the sun beams down on the boulevard that runs through the Brandenburg Gate, linked in everyone’s mind with The Wall that ripped Germany apart. Along the boulevard, the variegated colours – from pale ochre to blazing orange – of the linden trees put on such a show of natural beauty that you could almost succeed in clearing your mind of the carnage, the slaughter and the stench of human misery that visited Europe and especially Germany over 70 years ago.

   All is quiet now except for the Mercedes and BMW and Audi cars gliding by, and groups of well-dressed, mobile-carrying young Germans on some school tour of historic sights. Their hair bleached by a summer’s sun, they lick ice-cream and flirt with each other. Cyclists are going home from work – it could be the Rathmines Road.

   But this morning’s experience for me and about 30 other priests who are on an onsite study of Martin Luther and the Reformation was very different. We had gone underground to the Holocaust Museum. We had read on bare walls about hatred, butchery and heart-rending last letters from the doomed Jews. We had stared with disbelief at the rows of meat hooks from which many were hanged. The air was heavy with the reek of evil. The faces of the condemned haunted us as we emerged into the daylight.

   Reflect on this for a moment. We have a foolish notion that the devil, Satan – call him what you will – is this creature with horns, a long tail and a trident. Nonsense. Let me put it like this: Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, writer and mystic who asked the fundamental question when writing about the Nazi atrocities: Who is responsible for evil? And his answer – you and I whenever we harbour the spirit of evil, we are setting in motion the dark side of our nature which, carried to an extreme, resulted in the meat hooks. Let us always work towards peace.                                                                                                                                          Fr William