TO THE EDITOR, CATHOLIC TIMES, MR KEVIN FLAHERTY,
CREDO FOR 11TH FEBRUARY 2001. FR FRANCIS MARSDEN
The curse of God?
At Mass this weekend we will hear these words: “The Lord says this: A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on the things of flesh, whose heart turns from the Lord! . . A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope.” (Jeremiah 17)
We are familiar with the idea of divine blessings, but what about the divine curse? Many of us immediately feel uncomfortable with this notion. Does the divine curse really exist? Does God curse the evil doer and inflict evil upon him? After all, Jesus told us that at the Last Judgement, he will banish the damned: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire . . . “
Can God, who is Love, curse His own creatures?
The Scriptures teach us that the first curse was that suffered by Adam and Eve, a consequence of their original sin. The quality of their lives was changed for the worse. Their rational powers were darkened, their wills were weakened. They ceased to enjoy the paradise of Eden and the closeness of the Lord's presence. Life became difficult: “With sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread, until you return to the soil . . “ Sickness and death awaited them.
Their future posterity was also affected. Not long afterwards Cain slew his brother Abel, and as a result: "Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand." (Genesis 4:11).
These passages show us that a curse is the consequence of grave sin. We bring a curse down upon ourselves by ignoring God and defying His loving will for us. By sinning we forfeit our promised inheritance, and instead choose misery and torments.
The Old Testament mentality does see God as uttering curses: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3)
Each of us is faced with the choice: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse - the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today . . . " (Deut. 11:26-28)
God’s will is that we choose the blessing: "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him." (Deut.30:19-20)
Is it sinful for a Christian to curse anyone? I don’t mean using bad language (usually a venial sin) but pronouncing a solemn curse against a criminal or an evildoer. A priest of bishop can bless, but can he curse? Is a curse just a negative blessing? Well, there’s nothing in the liturgical books!
The New Testament clearly reveals that God‘s will is always for the good of his creatures, even the wicked ones. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We are to return good for evil. Only in this way can the world’s downward spiral of sin, revenge and violence be broken.
It would therefore be a grave sin to pronounce a curse, wishing and invoking evil upon a person. God never wishes evil. True, He allows pain and suffering to come upon us, as a stimulus to repentance or as part of our purification. But it would be naïve to think that God must hearken to the curse as he listens to other prayer of petition or blessing. What spiritual forces would eagerly hear and act upon a prayer to do evil?
The solemn ritual curses of voodoo and witchcraft do not invoke God. On the contrary, they attempt to employ evil spiritual powers, the devils, to cause harm or wreak revenge. As one 12-year old said after reading Harry Potter books. “I want to learn more about magic so that I can put a curse on our maths teacher who told me off for being lazy.”
Invoking diabolical powers is obviously a grave sin against the First Commandment. In any case, such curses are ineffective against believing and practising Christians. To believe otherwise is to believe one of the devil’s boastful lies. God has promised protection to the righteous from curses resting on them. “Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest." (Proverbs 26:2)
God is well able to protect his people from curses. When Balak, the king of Moab commanded the pagan prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites, God prevented it. "But God said to Balaam, 'Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.' " (Numbers 22:12). “However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you." (Deut. 23:5)
It is an ancient spiritual truth that whoever blesses another, himself inherits a blessing from the Most High: “Benedicens benedicetur.” In contrast, whoever curses another risks falling under that same curse: it is like the action and reaction of firing a gun.
If God curses no-one, we must conclude that people curse themselves by their own evil choices. By grave sin we deprive ourselves of the loving protection of our Father. We expose ourselves undefended to further attacks of the evil one and his legions of “wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls”.
Anyone who has suffered an assault or a robbery, is probably very angry afterwards with desires for revenge. This must be resisted. One can legitimately pray that the malefactors be caught and punished for their crimes. This, or an inner remorse, may induce repentance. We should pray for our oppressor’s conversion to Christ. In God’s providence, this may require some physical sickness or misfortune to force them to reassess the direction of their lives.
This is not to wish evil upon them. It is to pray that the consequences of evil-doing be brought home to them before it is too late, so that they may turn to God, make restitution for their crimes, and receive the grace of salvation.
When St Paul pronounces the anathema against false teachers and heretics, he speaks of “handing them over to Satan.” Anathema means “cut off” rather than “cursed.” The anathematised are cut off from the Church and the salvation she offers. Thus the devil may afflict them in the flesh, causing them misery and hopefully bringing about repentance. The aim of the anathema is that they abandon their heresies and be saved. It is an act of charity.
In today’s Gospel Jesus utters four Beatitudes and four Woes. The woes are a condemnation, firstly of avarice and attachment to the things of this world: “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Then of excessive care of the body and gluttony: “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall go hungry.”
Thirdly of empty headed pleasure and general self-indulgence: “Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” The fourth woe: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” condemns flattery and the disordered desire for human approval. We see that for Jesus the “Woe,” a warning summons to repentance, has replaced the Old Testament curse.
No columnist would dare to curse his esteemed readers. This writer invokes God’s blessing upon those who plough through his lengthy scripts. So I shall refrain from wishing you: “May your life be full of lawyers,” or “May you live in interesting times” as from the earthy Arabic malediction “May the fleas of a thousand camels rest in your armpits.” I would bid you farewell today with the words “May all your wishes be granted.” But this too is an inscrutable Chinese curse.