Saturday, March 12, 2011
First Sunday of Lent: The "tsunami" of original sin is turned back by the grace to resist temptation in Christ
A tsunami devastates everything in its path. This behemoth of destruction which can sweep away man and everything he has made as it lays waste cities, towns and countryside, is caused by a rebellion of rupture deep within the earth. Plates move, rise up, and break against all constraints, sending a shock wave through everything which surrounds them. We have seen only a few images which give us some idea of the awesome and terrible power of nature displayed in recent days afflicting the people of Japan. They remain in need of our prayers and material assistance.
There is another kind of "tsunami" which is even more devastating, however, because it reverberates through all human life, manifesting itself as a rupture deep within every human person and capable of throwing man and woman into eternal suffering, without love and without the others who make love possible.
The choice of our first parents Adam and Eve to abuse their freedom, rejecting God and His plan for them, erupted as an earthquake of sin and death with effects upon the whole human family, tearing every person away from original justice with God and tearing God away from a communion of love with all His creatures. Shock waves reverberated forth from this rebellion against God and His love which continue to affect each of us today, even after Baptism, through a darkened intellect and a weakened will. The tsunami which resulted from this moral "earthquake" we call original sin, the doctrine about which which Saint Paul teaches in today's second reading.
" 'Man, enticed by the Evil One, abused his freedom at the very beginning of history.' He succumbed to temptation and did what was evil. He still desires the good, but his nature bears the wound of original sin. He is now inclined to evil and subject to error: Man is divided in himself. As a result, the whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness." (CCC 1707)
We see it is true that man and woman are capable both of great good and of great evil. The suspension of 21 priests in recent days in our own country, for reasons best not discussed right here and now in detail, makes clear that our Church is affected by the tragedy of sin just as is every human reality. Persons in sports and entertainment use the media to merchandise the recycling of their rehab failures, overdoses and the other ill effects of drug, alcohol and other abuses of the human person for career-enhancing and lucrative tv shows for a glorification of evil that is very dangerous for us and for our children. The Evil One still peddles his tantalizing lie: "“You certainly will not die! ... you will be like gods".
"The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man's situation and activity in the world. By our first parents' sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails "captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil".Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals." (CCC 407)
We need, and are meant to, live in true freedom and to help our children from their youngest years to get a first taste of its sweetness. But not accidentally. No, the grace of our Baptism strengthens us to live intentionally and purposefully for the good, for God and for authentic love for ourselves and for others.
"By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God." (CCC 1263)
Jesus Christ is the only power which can overcome the effects of original sin which remain after Baptism, weakening us in the face of the devil's wiles.
"Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning." By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert." (CCC 540)
This intentional daily living of the graces of faith and Baptism is the rejection of temptation in order to choose the Fatherhood and the family of God, to choose the love unending and eternal that is possible only with God.
"The temptation in the desert shows Jesus, the humble Messiah, who triumphs over Satan by his total adherence to the plan of salvation willed by the Father." (CCC 566)
Our sovereign freedom is exercised in cooperation with the free gift of God's grace as we choose the response of Faith over and over against every temptation to reject God and His perfect self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
"The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart: 'Apart from me, you can do nothing.' " (CCC 2732)
"When we say 'lead us not into temptation' we are asking God not to allow us to take the path that leads to sin. This petition implores the Spirit of discernment and strength; it requests the grace of vigilance and final perseverance. (CCC 2863)
Even in our last life and death struggle on earth, when we are at our weakest as we prepare to meet God after our death, the sacrament of anointing seals for us the courage to live the power of Faith through the indwelling Spirit in our last moments in this world.
"A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, 'if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.' " (CCC 1520)
Art: Raphael, The Fall.