Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
“Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death.” We all pay the price for Adam’s sin. This seems patently unfair, especially to those who have thought that we could flee from the guilt of our ancestors and “start over” by moving to distant lands or by renouncing them, by claiming to have nothing to do with them. Thus, we put our ancestors at arms length, condemning them, and imagining that we are better, more enlightened, that their sin is not our own. In a sense this is true, but in a deeper sense it is a lie. We Catholics have to grapple with the reality of original sin (described in 396-409 of the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church). How can this reality possibly be part of the good news? It seems like very bad news to many people.
Love is the key to understanding how the Church can proclaim original sin as part of the good news of redemption. If we look honestly at our protests against the idea of original sin, we will see that they involve a desire to separate ourselves from the guilt of another, to not be held responsible for their actions, in short, to be a sort of “holier than thou.” But is this actually the logic of love, which we see revealed to us—since we would never get it quite right on our own—in Jesus Christ? In fact, our rejection of the guilt of our ancestors is a refusal to love them, a refusal to bear the guilt that they have left us, and so help to redeem them. We would rather renounce them and “get on with our lives.” But Catholic Christianity teaches us that there is a more fundamental solidarity, which we try to renounce, but can never escape. Everyone in the human race bears something of the sin of everyone else, and this is manifest all around us in our broken world. This is the reality of original sin: a fundamental solidarity, even where we would rather not be in solidarity.
But while we might flee this solidarity in guilt, Jesus Christ does not. He plunges right into it, bearing the sins of the world as if they were his own. “If by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” This is the flip side of human solidarity: it works both ways. If we are in solidarity through the guilt of humanity in original sin, we are also in solidarity through the redemption that Jesus Christ offers us. This is not a “magical” act, the way some would imagine it to be. God does not just “make things right” through some sort of aloof divine decree. Jesus suffered as much as a man can possibly suffer, and in this suffering, he takes up all the sins and sufferings of man as his own, because he is Man. Ecce homo. Behold the man. Behold man. Thus, we are all drawn into him, in love.
It is not enough to merely accept this as a “fait accompli.” I must be drawn up into it, so that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And, the Christ who lives in me will not push away the other saying “not my fault.” If I let Christ live in me, my neighbor’s sin will be an occasion for me to recognize where I, myself, continue to resist Christ living in me, so that I can turn and plead with the risen Christ not to hold my neighbor’s sin against him, but instead that he might forgive all of us together, that we might, in Christ, be one as he and the Father are one.