On June 13, 2012, Justin Siebenthal, a 21-year-old East Peoria, Illinois, man was shot and killed inside his home by two men. The crime took place in the middle of the night. Siebenthal opened his front door thinking that a man he had talked to earlier about buying some drugs was going to be standing outside the door. Instead, there were two men armed with handguns.
The two men forced their way into Siebenthal’s house. After a brief struggle, one of the men shot Siebenthal several times and managed to also shoot another man who was in the house at the time. Siebenthal was later pronounced dead in the emergency room of St. Francis Medical Center. The man who had been in the house with Siebenthal escaped and is apparently still in the hospital being treated for his gunshot wound.
It turned out that the man who had called and set up the drug deal was working in conjunction with the two armed men. Their plan was to commit an armed robbery, but the situation got out of control when Siebenthal tried to fight them off.
Last Thursday (June 21) in North Carolina, five young men ranging in age from 15 to 20 years old were arrested for the murder of a 60-year-old restaurant delivery driver. The five men lured the driver to a dark street so they could rob him.
When the driver stopped his car with the order of chicken wings and shrimp fried rice, he was shot in the face. He was later found slumped over inside his car, dead. After the killing, the assailants went to a nearby house and ate the food.
On Friday (June 22) a jury in Pennsylvania found Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach for Penn State University, guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against children. In addition to being a well-known and respected football coach, Sandusky was the founder of The Second Mile, a nonprofit charity in Pennsylvania that provided services to underprivileged and at-risk youth. Sandusky, who is 68 years old, was taken into custody and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
You may have heard of Bernie Madoff, the highly respected and trusted stockbroker, investment advisor, and financier to the rich and famous. In March 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty in federal court to defrauding thousands of wealthy investors of billions of dollars. Over a period of more than 35 years, Madoff was able to pull off the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison. He is currently 74 years old and has only 147 years of his prison sentence left to serve.
Last but not least is our former governor Rod “Blago” Blagojevich, who was convicted of felony charges of wire fraud, attempted extortion, bribery, and conspiracy. He currently resides at a federal prison in Englewood, Colorado. If Blago behaves himself, he’ll be released from prison sometime in 2024.
During the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, I worked at a local restaurant as a busboy. I was 17 years old at the time. There was another busboy my age who worked at the same restaurant. His name was Roger.
Roger had everything going for him. He was smart, charming, and good looking. Everyone at the restaurant liked him, including the customers. Sometimes he would act a little crazy when no one was looking, but other than that, he appeared to be a good all-American boy.
One evening when I walked around the corner to an area of the kitchen where backup items were stored, I saw Roger standing on a table peeing into a barrel of pickles. Since the pickles were stored in their own juice with its own tart smell, no one would notice that there was urine mixed in with them. I was stunned by what I saw, especially in light of the fact that the restaurant routinely served pickles with meals.
I asked Roger why he was peeing into the barrel, and he couldn’t give me an answer. I asked him if he was angry with our manager or someone at the restaurant. He answered “No.” After more questions, Roger told me that it was the first time he had ever done anything like that. He said he “just did it on a whim.”
I worked at the restaurant for a few more months after that and then moved on to a new job. A few years after the incident in the kitchen, I heard that Roger had been shot and killed after a drug deal he was involved in went bad.
So here’s my question for you: What do all the individuals I’ve told you about have in common? The answer is, they were all evil. As a society, we always seem to be surprised by the behavior of someone who is truly evil. Unfortunately, we don’t really have any predictable ways of recognizing and dealing with individuals before it becomes obvious that they are evil.
I don’t know about other cultures, but in America most people have trouble recognizing evil in others. I think the reason for this is, in part, because of our deeply rooted Judeo-Christian values. We are taught and conditioned to believe that “there is good in everyone.” As a consequence, we are constantly on the lookout for the “good in others.” Despite what should be obvious signs that some people may be evil, we come up with reasons that excuse their behavior. We blame the environment they grew up in, the difficulties they faced in their lives, or the specific circumstances that led to them behaving in a certain way.
Most of us would agree that there is good in everyone. What we really don’t think about (or we avoid thinking about) is that as a consequence of original sin, we were all born with an inclination toward evil. We are all capable of becoming evil.
So what makes a person evil? From a Catholic perspective, a person becomes evil when he either (1) allows himself to be consumed by one or more of the seven capital sins, or (2) intentionally chooses to engage in and embrace one or more of the seven capital sins. (As a reminder, the seven capital sins are pride, lust, anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, and sloth.)
When a person succumbs to sin, he becomes an agent of the devil. It is at that point when evil metastasizes inside the person’s soul and begins to spread like cancer. And like cancer, the evil does not usually reveal itself until it has destroyed the soul and conscience of the person.
As Catholics, we have an advantage over other individuals when it comes to resisting and overcoming evil. We have (among other things) prayer and the sacraments (baptism, confirmation, confession, Holy Communion, matrimony, holy orders, and anointing of the sick). Through daily prayer and the sacraments we have the ability to remain in the state of grace at all times. When we are in the state of grace, we are agents of the Holy Spirit.
If we assume we can avoid evil without daily prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments, we are surrendering to pride (by believing we can resist the temptation of evil on our own). We live in a world in which we are surrounded by evil. In order to always remain in the state of grace, we need to make sure we pray daily, attend Mass and receive Holy Communion on a regular basis, and go to confession at least once a month. Of course, there’s more that we should be doing, but that’s a good place to start.