Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect.
As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone.
Never try to get revenge: leave that, my dear friends, to the Retribution. As scripture says: Vengeance is mine -- I will pay them back, the Lord promises.
And more: If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this, you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head.
Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.
Romans 12, 17-21
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.
Dear friends, brothers and sisters,
This exhortation of the Apostle Paul, in the shape of a call to common sense, rings out very strongly in our hearts, in our Europe today, torn apart and lost as it is, while it expects and prepares the terms of its future.
Of course, in the time of the apostle Paul, the crisis of the Roman Empire, which was spreading to the capital city of Rome itself, as well as to the first, divided Christian communities, already caused pain and turmoil even among the most confident.
Today, as we meet together to remind each other and the world of our common vocation, which is to build bridges, walkways, and form ties of brotherhood, the words of the Apostle are once again ardently up-to-date and they urge us on.
Will we be overcome by evil? Will we let the Good News of the Gospel and the words of peace of the denominations gathered here be overcome and overwhelmed by the bad news, which have so increased in number?
The bad news of shameless populism, which mocks and is a mockery, but is also as evil as it is dangerous for peace in our continent; the bad news of growing inequity and the gap between the income of the rich and the poor, the loss of confidence in the rule of law in our democracies; the bad news of violence and conflicts, of corruption, of narrow-minded identities, of fundamentalisms, as well as the deadly bad news of climate changes…
To believe, in this case, will not be enough, dear friends, brothers and sisters, if it were to mean only to celebrate, to pray, to sing, to dance and to hope.
“To believe is to think”, Ricoeur said.
This effort of critical intelligence, this tireless call to the personal and collective understanding, which consists in “reading between the lines” to “re-interpret” together our founding texts, this encouragement, in a way, to “bear witness to our religion” before everything is separated and troubled, this effort has become necessary.
Religion is not chasm, as we hear around us, it is not and it must not let itself be associated with obscurantism.
We must also remind our societies, which have fortunately become secular, but unfortunately are forgetful of their origin and the spiritual depth of their tradition, that religion is on the side of ratio when it needs to be heard and accepted by the world.
In fact, fides et ratio speak to each other, and like twins they argue, but they also love one another secretly, because they know they are indispensable to each other.
Therefore, to think, to consider what is happening in this world, to converse, to guess, to point out the challenges of the future, and to act in our existences, in the secret of our hearts, in our simplest gestures, this is the challenge: a benevolent vision, rather than hardened one, a word that accompanies and edifies, rather that one that judges, a commitment for life and good, rather than wasting time in meaningless actions.
I take the liberty of quoting here, cum grano salis, the great Reformer John Calvin who, in his famous commentary to the Letter to the Romans, wrote in 1540: “It can even happen that someone, who tries to overcome evil with evil, manages to overcome his enemy in meanness, but this will be for his ruin and confusion!”. How many of our Churches have been involved in this in history, or even in more recent times!
And how much have their words lost their credibility because of the evil they did and, what is worst, of the damage they are still doing today!
Therefore, Churches of all possible denominations, as well as other religions, are involved without exception, in this call to prudence and wisdom itself; and above all in what the Apostle Paul warns us against by asking us precisely “not to claim we are wiser than we are”, which is surprisingly written in the verse above the ones we read! (Rm 12, 16).
Actually, this invitation to wise prudence applies to everyone, even those who are about to give a public speech or carry responsibilities, or those who bear the duties of an office. Excessive statements, the use of anger, manly poises for politicians or religious leaders sometimes lost in ephemeral feelings of almightiness, long coveted shock phrases, slogans, oversimplified answers given with assertiveness and shamelessness to problems everyone knows are complex – immigration, asylum, poverty, violence, multiculturalism, interreligious relationships, denial of human rights, etc. – all this is not appreciated by the Apostle Paul, I daresay, who is at the heart of our meditation.
All this must not paralyse us. The word of Gospel, which is sweet and firm, clear and benevolent, critical and intelligent, tirelessly warns and guides our world. If ratio et fides bicker, if they nevertheless try together, through dialogue, to be wise and clear, then the folly of the Gospel is at work.
The Apostle here has plainly heard Christ, or someone else unquestionably told him about his words: it is the folly of the sermon on the mount, it is the beginning, the radiance of a rising promise: “Overcome evil with good!”. It is caritas joining her the two sisters, the youngest perhaps… giving meaning to the whole as a radiant and open trinity.
Everything is actually open. Every initiative that is up to this promise is allowed. Everything is possible, although not everything is useful. And everybody is called, even urged to act. It happened to Sant’Egidio fifty years ago, with the Reformers five hundred years ago, with the people awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with the multitude of unknown people who did what was needed to save the persecuted; it happened with the families who welcome the exiles, with the nurses, the physicians, the researchers, the magistrates, the farmers, the artists, the soldiers, the teachers, the aides of all professions, the craftsmen and the traders, the farmers of all countries, the administrators, the legislators, all those called “the saints” in Paul’s letters, that is all those women and men, who were called, sometimes without even knowing it, to God’s service and Glory.
Without forcibly resorting to violence, without the hate speeches or acts of hatred, without the hideous call to revenge, without the cruel laugh of the demagogue sailing before the wind, and without the dreadfully violent and disquieting tone of mockery. All those who have put into practice this incredible word, which we are asked to transmit, all of them and all of you who are gathered here now, if you accept and listen to this word: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.