There’s something about the Jeffrey Epstein story that’s just out of the pit of hell. I thought that before he apparently killed himself while being held in federal custody. I became more convicted of that as the Saturday-morning news broke and it seemed to be the topic of every conversation, nearly impossible not to comment on. Conspiracy theories, as we well know, filled social media and conversations everywhere. Everything about the story, of course, is the stuff of the most sordid fiction. Except, as with our addiction to national politics, it’s not the next big Netflix series. It’s not something to get consumed by. Truth and justice are essential — in no small part to expose evil to light. But let’s not get all dragged down into every excruciatingly dark detail. Let’s be better custodians of our minds and our hearts and our time.
The Epstein death news broke as I was leaving morning Mass and I was as tempted as anyone to keep clicking and engaging. It was quite the contrast: the tremendous peace and power of the Mass, and the utter darkness of what I was getting almost instantaneously sucked into. But doesn’t that happen all the time? We try to do what is right, we try to live good lives, we try to help our neighbor, but we are also surrounded by noise that can wreck our focus and hope.
Around the same time that Epstein’s life, if not the life of the news story, was ending, Pew Research was reporting that the majority of American Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist — that the bread and wine during Mass become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church. Marist polling commissioned by the Knights of Columbus over the years has made something clear, though it’s not surprising: The more you go to Mass, the more you tend to believe that teaching. And as I got a little off course, going from the holy to the hellish, I just couldn’t shake thinking — and can’t still — just how desperately the world today needs Christians to be who they say they are, and to do what they are called to do by virtue of their Baptism: to live the Beatitudes. To be filled with the love of God so as to spread it in the world. Spending time with God in prayer and worship — and the sacraments — gives you, and by extension all of us (if you believe in the power of such things, of grace in the world), a fighting chance.
I’m using the Epstein story here as a proxy for much evil in the world, some of which doesn’t get covered because it doesn’t have the same celebrity elements. The misery of poverty, the terror of sex trafficking, the brutality of religious persecution, to name just a few. Do believers truly plead with God to alleviate some of the suffering, to be an instrument of His love and providential care in the midst of it?
Perhaps sentiments of “thoughts and prayers” get ridiculed because people don’t believe that anyone is praying. Instead of adding to the anger in the world, religious believers ought to take all of these stories that are so much in the news as a change to consider: What is different about my life? Is it thanksgiving to God, who I believe created all that is good, and am I in awe because of this? Or am I too distracted?
It would be ignoring the obvious to fail to recognize that evil has penetrated even the Church, of course. In recent days, a statute-of-limitations repeal has flooded New York State with new old abuse allegations. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Agnes by Grand Central, I encountered priests leading prayers healing from all evil for anyone who has ever been hurt by a representative of the Church, of Christ Himself.
It reminded me of another church where I encountered a pastor who came running in while another priest ended an early-morning Sunday Mass and announced that the Dayton shooting had happened overnight, so close after the El Paso shooting. He pleaded with people to pray the Rosary for an end to this evil, for mercy on the souls of the innocents who had died, and for the consolation of everyone devastated by the loss of a loved one in these murders.
He is someone who appears to actually believe that God is real and present and just waiting for us to come to Him to grow in trust of Him as we acknowledge our reliance on Him for ourselves and for so many problems in our lives and the world. When we keep our focus on the Creator of the world, we are more likely to do beautiful things, see the beauty in people, and not add to the darkness. Don’t repeat or retweet anything dark. Light a candle of hope by whispering a prayer instead and nourishing faith, and by being light yourself by the way you live differently — with a focus on the beautifully enduring and eternal goods.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.