Heaping Hot Coals

Though others do us evil, St. Paul teaches, we are not to render evil in return. “Providing good things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men,” we are to “have peace with all men,” “if it be possible,” and as much as peace is in our power (Rom. 12:16-18).

To what extent does peace depend on us? And how do we secure it when kings and princes rage “against the Lord, and against his Christ” (Ps. 2:1-2)?

Complete and lasting peace is not ours to give.

Being “not wise in [our] own conceits,” we recognize that final vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:16, 19). Perfect and eternal peace will reign when he casts out the impenitent “children of the kingdom” of this world “into the exterior darkness,” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12).

But all in his good time.

As for the time given to us, St. Paul refers us to Proverbs for the weapons with which we are to combat the ungodly: “If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat: if he thirst, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap hot coals upon his head, and the Lord will reward thee” (25:21-22).

Good deeds are like hot coals in that they contain, and transmit, the love of God.

To those who have pit their souls against God, this love may stoke the fires of hatred. Even a brief perusal of the Roman Martyrology will impress us with the many ingenious tortures devised by worldlings who could not endure the love of Christians.

For those who persist in such malevolence, our good works will one day reappear to usher them into an eternal torture of their own devising.

To those more fortunate, the return of good for evil may be an occasion of shame. This in turn may awaken within them a different sort of flame: that of divine charity.

In searching for coals to heap on others, we can look beyond Proverbs to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Here we find that the love of God bids us answer error with truth, confusion with clarity, vice with virtue, anger with meekness, malice with mercy, despair with hope, and curses with prayers.

In addition, as our mad masters strive to lock us in prisons of fear, suspicion, isolation, and degradation, we can look for opportunities to provide others with goods to which they are losing access, whether these be food, drink, clothing, shelter, or timely acts of companionship, rescue, respect, or gratitude.

No matter what fireworks the enemy tries to frighten us with in the coming days, we can always respond by lighting our own conflagration—of a radically different kind.

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