[Excerpted from the January/February 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Blessed Sacrament Father Paul J. Bernier served for many years as the editor of Emmanuel. He is a popular writer, preacher, and director of retreats. Among his many published works is Ministry in the Church: A Historical and Pastoral Approach, Second Edition, published by Orbis Books in 2015.]
Why is there so much evil in the world? This question has plagued us for centuries. The more pessimistic answer is that humanity is so depraved that it is incapable of doing anything good, only descending deeper and deeper into sin. The traditional Catholic approach has been more nuanced, seeing people as more deprived than depraved. This still leaves us with the problem of understanding how we can be saved from selfishness and sin, and how Christ makes a real difference in our lives. Linked with this is how we can cooperate with God in making the world what it was intended to be from the day of creation. Then (as we will be reminded at Easter) God could look at this world of ours and say that it was good.
Mark’s Gospel begins by stating that Jesus began his public ministry with a trial of strength with Satan ― the tempter. Thus begins the great eschatological battle between good and evil. Jesus was victorious here but, as Mark’s Gospel will show, the struggle continued throughout his life, to end only on the cross. This struggle is meant to pattern the life of every Christian. Jesus’ victory over the wild beasts is meant to evoke that harmony of nature intended by God from the beginning, and is clearly messianic (cf. Ps 91:11-13). Mark gives us no details, which allows us to focus on the fact of temptation rather than its exact nature. Jesus went from the desert to proclaim a world where God holds full sway over our lives, urging us to share his victory over evil.