I am often intrigued as I go round the parish to discover the reading material of parishioners, books of choice, especially those of older parishioners. Instead of gentle, easy going novels, usually they are glued to or ploughing their way through detective stories and solving crimes. These novels are very often dark stories with gruesome murders told in eye-popping detail, they have dark sinister figures, the books are populated by people who live lives that are a million miles from those who read these books, who live in quiet streets, in quiet houses and who do no one any harm.
I often wonder often what attracts them to to such books, keeps them up half the night reading them, be scared out of their wits at what these people do.
Of course what lies behind it is the fascination of good and evil that people often have. People often are absorbed by that interplay. Its very often at the heart of each of these stories. You see it also played out in novels and on the TV: East-enders, Coronation St, Morse, the Bodyguard and the like. Some moral dilemma, some dark temptation someone has, some terrible thing that has befallen an individual or family. The story criss-crosses from one ghastly deed to another. Inthe end we hope that good triumphs and that evil is defeated.
But very often there is a sophistication in the stories – the evil character is not always evil, the situation is not always black and white. Those who are the heroes of the stories and not really the nicest if characters.
We realise that all situations are not black and white, that people’s motivations and complex. Sets of circumstances beyond your control can you draw you into a dark world.
We are endlessly fascinated by that interplay between good and evil. What makes us good, what makes us evil. The moral questions people face in their life. Your ability to do the right thing, factors that go into it, your upbringing, where you live, your personality and character. How you see things, what shapes your perception of right and wrong.
Clearly if you are hungry, live in a country where there is no food, your perception is different about stealing than it would be normally. Clearly if you are in a country where there is terrible violence all around, your perception of how to defend yourself changes.
The bible is a fascinating book. There is blood and guts there. From the first pages we have a brother who kills his brother, Cane and Able. We have armies that slaughter one another. We have kings who are envious, steal people’s land, steal people’s wives. People who deceive to get what they want. People who lie prodigiously to get other people’s posesions. People who hide behind religion to appear good and yet have dark hearts, dark motivations and dark intent.
But in these pages God is giving the lead and in the messiness of their lives is asking them to seek out the good. And along the way he gives them rules and commandments to do good. These are fixed points that will lead to good actions and good outcomes. Don’t steal someone’s possessions. Don’t kill. Don’t be envious of what someone else has. Good actions which lead to good outcomes.
The readings of Mass remind us of that fascination of good and evil. The first reading speaks of the choice between life and death, between good and evil. Jesus in the Gospel speaks of keeping he commandments, both the law and the spirit that lies behind them in order to arrive at a good life, good decisions, good moral choices.
Those stories and novels that we read that both frighten and fascinate us. Those stories that horrify us and at the same time are things that people are glued to are so desirable because we are fascinated by that interplay between good and evil, the twists and turns and how it will resolve. In many ways it is the stuff of life.
Maybe one if the reasons why we come to this place, to this Church, to this mass, why we belong ti the church, is that desire to live a good moral life. To find ways of avoiding evil. To learn how to make consistent and good choices in life. To plug ourselves into God and to live as he would wish us. We know that there are things to learn. Things to stick to. There are ways to go and ways to avoid. There are ways to go that lead to good outcomes, ways that lead to heartbreak and harm. We have come here to plug ourselves into these things.
There is no doubt we won’t end up murdering someone, as in the novels or books. `We won’t end up stealing a million puns or the like. But in or life that interplay if good and evil goes on each day. We are subject to the temptations of evil. We are subject to the delusions, to the conceits, to the blindness that goes with it. We are always interested in how good triumphs over evil.