Why do we inherit original sin?

Before launching into an answer, let’s pause and revisit the Fall. Or, better yet, let’s check out what things were like before the Fall of man.

God created Adam and Eve (Adam’s name in Hebrew literally means “mankind” – so we are dealing here with a story on two levels – past history and, to a degree, present personal history) and “invited them to intimate communion with himself and clothed them with resplendent grace and justice” (CCC 54). Adam and Eve existed in an original state of holiness and justice – “This grace of original holiness was ‘to share in…divine life'” (CCC 375).

By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man’s life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called “original justice.” (CCC 376)

How can we characterize man’s relationship with God? What is meant by this friendship? Did the friendship come about simply because God created Adam and Eve?

One key for understanding this relationship between God and man can be found in Genesis 1:27, the famous “image and likeness” line. Now, curiously enough, these words appear again in Gen. 5:3, the description of the father/son relationship between Adam and Seth. If Seth is in Adam’s image and likeness, and Seth is Adam’s son, then we have a tremendous indicator for the original relationship between God and Adam. But how could a mere man actually be a “son” of the eternal Father? Man is clearly not the same “stuff” of God.

The answer lies veiled in the mysterious verses that open Gen. 2. Here we read about the sabbath, God’s mysterious day of rest. But God is almighty, so why does he need to rest?

We do know that the sabbath happens on the seventh day. It is also the case that the Hebrew word for seven stands not only for a number. Sheba is also a verb, “and it means to swear a covenant oath – literally to ‘seven oneself'” (See Hahn, Scott. First Comes Love. Cf. Gen. 21:27-32). The sabbath is not so much a day for the Father to rest weary eyes (he doesn’t have a need to…er…he doesn’t have eyes like we do), but stands as a sign of the covenant God made with creation.  “The sabbath symbolized man’s God-given destiny: to rest in God’s blessing and holiness for all eternity” (Hahn 55).

Let’s make a quick distinction. A covenant forges family bonds, it literally makes a family happen. Think about a wedding. Two people who are not family walk down the aisle, exchange vows, and depart a family unit – husband and wife. This bond cannot be broken. An exchange of persons, a communion is formed. Promises (like engagement) are elevated by the swearing of an oath.

Nowadays, we don’t have the same understanding of covenant as the ancients did. We tend to equate them with contracts – partners who exchange promises (terms of agreement) regarding the distribution of goods/services. Once the goods/services have been dished the contract is void.

God didn’t make a contract with creation/man, He established a covenant with creation. This is how the ancients would have understood the two creation accounts. But, in case you’re skeptical, here is further proof:

1. God’s name changes between Gen. 1 and Gen. 2. The sabbath covenant gives rise to a new relationship. Not only Creator/creature, but Father/son by the grace and blessing offered in the covenant.

2. Check out Genesis 6:18. Here we have the first use of the word “covenant.” It appears, then, that until now, we have no covenant. However, the word for “establish” elsewhere in scripture means to “renew” or to “confirm” or to “fulfill.” Something has to exist before any of these can happen!

3. The Catechism, when speaking about the covenant with Israel, understands Creation as the first step towards the covenant (CCC 288), the sabbath is the sign of the irrevocable covenant (see Ex. 31:16), and John Paul II notes that:

We do not forget even for a moment that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, become our reconciliation with the Father. He it was, and he alone, who satisfied the Father’s eternal love, that fatherhood that from the beginning found expression in creating the world, giving man all the riches of creation, and making him “little less than God”, in that he was created “in the image and after the likeness of God”. He and he alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant and the later covenants that God “again and again offered to man”. (RH 9)

Why all of this talk about covenant? Because we can easily miss this point – original sin does not only mean that man lost sanctifying grace, original justice, and original harmony (see CCC 400-ff), original sin was man’s decision to break familial bond established in the covenant. Original sin is not a “thing” passed on, it is a privation – the loss of Fatherly blessing and grace.

Because God established His covenant with Adam (mankind), and Adam (mankind) broke the covenant (every covenant involves promises that are either upheld or broken – see Gen. 2:16-17), the natural state in which mankind exists is broken, empty, and no longer a familial relationship.

We inherit original sin, then, because the creation covenant was broken. We are no longer “naturally” a part of God’s family by grace. 

How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all areimplicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committ

ed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” — a state and not an act. (CCC 404)

Adam transmitted to us “a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the ‘death of the soul.’ Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin” (CCC 403).

Hence Baptism, a rebirth by water and Spirit (see John 3), imparts the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin, turns a man back toward God (see CCC 405), and brings about an adoption – re-entry into the Trinitarian family (see CCC 1265).


When you ask a Youth Minister some questions…

Recently, someone I respect a great deal approached me with a few questions about Youth Ministry and teens in today’s culture. He expressed a feeling of urgency to address the growing problem (just look at the stats) of people, especially young people, leaving the Church, etc. He was looking for answers and solutions. Below are my responses to some of his questions. 

In response to his opening statement about the current trends/statistics and the felt need for an urgent action: 

Yes, that statistics are rather harrowing. When we talk about young people and the faith we have to remember that the gift of faith is really something the Church has been asked to pass on. Jesus Christ came in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose from the dead in the flesh, and then entrusts his Body with the task of proclaiming this saving message – the Good News of the Gospel. But tradition always dies when it is forgotten, undervalued, or un-lived. The youth we see today are largely a product of the faith passed on to them by their parents – whether that is faith in Christ, faith in the “American dream,” the sexual revolution, or what have you. The family may be ravaged, but it cannot be replaced. The situation is dire and the secular culture is relentless in its liberal agenda. Perhaps the saddest part of it all is the secularization within the Church herself. This is the real travesty.

The ache that you feel in your heart has only one answer – Jesus Christ. There is no ploy, no program, no strategy, no human word, structure, or novel idea powerful enough to break through the sin of selfishness and self-messianism that we experience today. The ache is a sign, and the sign’s trajectory must lead us always to Christ, and Him crucified…a experience we have been privileged to participate in.

In response to a question on how to address a young person who has no current relationship with God, or no interest in having one (i.e. the “hard-hearted”): 

Typically teens don’t come to Youth Group if they are not interested. Nowadays more and more parents, and rightly so, give their teens the option to go to Youth Ministry or not. Very few are forced. In those occasions, however, unconditional, disinterested (in pushing my beliefs), love is the only thing powerful enough to break through. This only makes sense. That’s exactly what Christ did – He is not a good idea, a political power, phantasm, or abstract philosophy. He came to us as a person seeking relationship, seeking only to encounter man where sinful man was. In other words, he went into the muck of life in order to penetrate our hard hearts. These young people who have hard hearts need a real love, a human love that is willing and capable of entering into their pain with them. This real relationship, this sense of belonging, this witness to the love of Christ is truly powerful enough to overcome hard hearts only because He uses us in this way. More often than not, this experience is (at least initially) relegated to the place of prayer, and that vicarious suffering for the other that happens in the silence of our hearts. On the practical level, we hope that all teens, whether they know and love God or not, find in Youth Ministry a place where they belong and are loved. Pope Francis just spoke about this, in fact.

Responding to why so many young people have no relationship with God: 

I think I addressed this above for the most part. The breakdown of the family and the pervasive secular culture are tremendous forces. Couple these with the dictatorship of relativism and a purely rationalistic, materialistic worldview and you have now created the perfect environment for atheism. But, I’m never content to pass the buck here, and I truly am tired of hearing people blame the culture. Chaput once said that the world is the way it is because Catholics are not living their faith. In other words, Christ entrusted us with an incredible mission – to proclaim the Gospel! I believe that the Gospel message, that the Person of Christ, is still relevant (even in a post-modern society). And, more than merely being relevant, I believe the Gospel has the power to totally transform lives (i.e. conversion), because He has transformed mine and countless others – Now! He is happening to me right now! But most young people have never heard the Gospel proclaimed in a captivating way, they have never been swept up into the story, their story, by witnesses bold enough to proclaim the whole of the Gospel and that CHALLENGE that it is.

And, with all of that said, I would argue that there is a remnant of young, faithful Catholics who are living the Gospel call and who are zealous to help souls. The Lord has always worked His salvation through the remnant. It is here and there is reason to hope. This is the fruit of the New Evangelization.

Now for a closing remark: 

In the end, I would say that there is no mechanism that guarantees faith. The Catholic faith is not a religion of the book, it is not a moral code, or a superb strategy. The Catholic faith is a religion of the Word, the Word made flesh, who proposes himself to human freedom fullyaware of the possibilities – to be accepted or rejected. This is the Christ we must profess, the same Christ who has provoked the hearts of man for ages, and who ultimately demands an answer because He came in the flesh and declared Himself to be God. He is the answer. He has to be.


Cutting Through the Commentary: Pope Francis’ Encounter with Christ

A teen approached me yesterday and essentially asked, “So, what do you think of the new Pope?”

She was asking because she had heard so many different opinions about him.  Ironically, I had been floundering in the same speculative mire a few days before and grappling with the same concerns.  Ultimately, this particular teen had heard a lot about Pope Francis, but not much directly from him.  On the one hand, this makes sense because he’s only been on the chair for a couple of weeks. On the other hand, this illustrates our tendency to pass judgment quickly based upon preconception, idiosyncrasy, or worse, the preconceptions of others alone.  We are not immune to the secular culture and the vaulting of Everyman as the authoritative voice on every matter.

With regard to Catholics and the Pope, this “popular” way of approaching the Pope is both divisive and prideful.

The media (some Catholic media included), in many ways, has placed a subtle wedge between Pope Francis and his predecessor.  Francis has been portrayed as the epitome of humility, a poverello who has rejected some of the fancies that have surrounded the papacy, a “pope for the people” (instead of a pope for himself?).  These descriptions, which have been so abundant (and perhaps noted so heavily due to complete surprise) have a peculiar impact on the way we perceive the previous papacy, as if Benedict XVI was some nefarious and wealthy egoist.  That point only becomes more poignant when we recall that Benedict is still alive. Yet anyone who has encountered Pope Benedict, either in person or in his writings, gains a sense of both his humility and love of the Truth.

Pope Francis giving Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI an image of Our Lady of Humility.

Pope Francis giving Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI an image of Our Lady of Humility.

So much for a point on division, what about pride?  Here I will address the attitude that essentially says, “Pope Francis is not Catholic enough for me?”  The answer is simple – who made you the final arbiter on Catholicity?  Now, there is one key indicator: Is our Pope a heretic?  Look at his track  record.

In reflecting upon these phenomena, I am struck ultimately by my own weakness: pride, preconception, lack of openness, etc.  But this identification of problems cannot be the final word…

What do I think of the new Pope?

I think the teen’s father (the teen who approached with the initial question) perhaps said it best (as quoted by the teen): “It was unsettling to not have a Pope. Now we have one. We love the Pope.”

Let’s get to know him.  In the last 4-5 days I have resigned myself almost exclusively to reading only the Pope himself, instead of a gazillion articles about him.  Why?

Because the Pope is Peter, and Christ builds his Church on the experience of Peter.  Just look at Peter in the Gospels – a humble, stubborn, zealous, weak, faithful, and unfaithful follower of Jesus. That was his experience of Christ and following Christ – and Christ founds the Church on that experience!  I followed Pope Benedict because he witnessed to me the love of Christ based upon his real knowledge, his real encounter, his real experience of Christ. His encounter happened through the Church, yet was unique to him as a human person.  The exact same is true of Pope Francis.  This man has encountered Christ in his experience, and I need to look with Francis through his experience to learn something new about Christ.

Why don’t we like this?

Because it is uncomfortable.

Numerous times Francis has associated himself in the same pipeline as JPII and Benedict XVI.  There is no break.  He has called us on to protect the poor and the environment, rooted the whole thing in our need for personal conversion.  He is interested in preaching the cross and moving forward only with the cross.  And he is urging us to encounter Christ more deeply and more joyfully this week than we ever have before.

Jesus is God, but he lowered himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother. He illumines our path here. And in this way we have welcomed him today. And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus!

He is our true pastor – let’s get to know him, not commentary about him.

Modest is Not Hottest

By Katie Bursa

At a Youth Conference when I was in high school, I saw a bunch of guys wearing these Modest is Hottest t-shirts.   I felt instantly wooed by this Catholic pickup line.  I want to be modest and hottest, I thought.

Now I can’t judge the hearts or intentions of these guys or anyone else who has stood behind this Modesty Banner.  I think what they mean is that to be modest is more attractive than letting it all hang out.  But what do we mean by hottest?  What are we promoting as thModesty-is-always-beautiful.-G.Ke greatest good by this expression?  Hotness?

Now it may sound like I am just nit-picking word choice, but  I think we are not getting to the root of the immodesty issue when we advertise modesty as a way to really be hottest.  I actually have always cringed at the so called compliment, “You look hot!”  It has never felt like a compliment.  I would much rather be called beautiful.

Because when someone calls me hot, I feel like a piece of meat.  Modesty is not about being a covered piece of meat (a nice breaded pork chop maybe?).  The true message of modesty is that WE ARE NOT MEAT OR EYE-CANDY.

The Catechism defines modesty as “refusing to unveil that what should remain hidden[…] Modesty protects the intimate center of the person.” (CCC 2521).  For women, modesty is a responsibility to protect our identity as Daughters of God.  Then the question of Am I hottest AND modest? becomes Is this outfit protecting my identity as a Daughter of God?

When you put it that way, why wouldn’t I want to protect that? So what is the struggle here?  Why do I fail to protect my identity as a Daughter of God?  For me, the root of my sin is wanting to be noticed above all else.  I want to be noticed and valued as special and I am afraid that if I don’t take things into my own hands, if I don’t put myself out there to be noticed, then I will be overlooked.   The answer to our desire to be noticed and valued above all others, is to turn to Christ to love us.  The only true answer to this struggle is to turn to the One who loves us completely, even in our imperfections.  It takes patience and trust to resist the temptation to get immediate attention through flirting and immodest dress.

But this patience and trust is not that of Snow White in seclusion singing, “One Day my prince will come…”.  Our prince has come.  The patience and trust is to follow Him where He will lead us.

Resources for Teens on the Topic of Modesty:

  • Michelle, one of our Youth Ministry Core members,  gave a great talk on her personal journey with fashion and modesty. Check it out!
  • Interested in some of Theology of the Body’s perspective on this?  You might like Theology of His/Her Body by Jason Evert.
  • Leah Darrow was one of America’s Top Models, until she had a conversion experience.  You can hear more about her story on her website.
  • You can check out Dignitas Magazine for insights into Christian womanhood and fashion.

Do Miracles Still Happen? (Part I)

In a recent conversation with a teen, the following questions came up:  Why does it seem like miracles hardly ever happen anymore?  Were people just more superstitious back in the day?

There is a lot going on in these two questions, so we’ll need to slow down and define some terms and make a few distinctions.  The second question will be addressed in the next post.

First, let’s define “miracle.”

In our world of rampant scientism, one may think that science has explained away the miraculous.  We often hear it said that “science has explained that.”  The logic goes like this:  because many things that once “appeared to be miraculous” can be explained by science, therefore, there are no such things as miracles.

This approach actually works from a rather narrow definition of miracle as “that which cannot be explained by science.”   There are a couple of problems with this definition:  1) It presumes that science is the way in which we know anything about everything, and 2) it misses the essential point about what a miracle is.

(For the record, I believe that God can do whatever supernatural stuff he wants, even things that cannot be explained by natural sciences – which is good for science, because it keeps it in business – and never will be.  That said, I want to examine an expanded understanding of miracle.)

So, what is a miracle?  Here’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) definition:

“A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power.”

Let’s go back.

What does science do?  Science measures stuff.  It tells us how the world operates on the material level.  It explains how things interact and how they help to create something new.  It explains how a healing may have happened on the physical level – the cause and effect of the physical realm.

We live in a material world (“and I am a material gir“…).  Stuff really is made out of matter (e.g. my body, my computer, this tree, that car, etc.).  When something material mysteriously changes, science should have something to say about how it changed – that is its job.

But, once you ask the “why” question, science necessarily finds itself with limited words.

Refer back to the CCC definition and the use of the word “attributed.”  Because we live in the natural, created order, events can be explained in natural terms (i.e. science) to a degree.  But, when a person begins to ask “Why did this happen?” or “What/Who caused this?” the human mind and heart shifts to a need to attribute a cause or a meaning – to understand what happened, how it happened, and why it happened for/to me.  In short, an unreduced reason (openness to all of reality), an unhindered human curiosity, an insatiable desire to understand meaning is open to prospect of the miraculous – attribution of events to a Divine Cause.

Bob Rice has a nice article on this topic.  In it, he simply defines a miracle as, “an action of divine intervention. Which means we’re surrounded by miracles every day. Our very lives, our very breath, is a miracle.”

This post has simply freed the word “miracle” from the modern definition – one that has been horribly reduced by post-enlightened culture.

To answer the first question, then, one could argue that miracles happen just as often now as they always have.  We (as people, or a society) are incredulous.  We lack the eyes to see.  We lack the proper openness (religious sense) to reality in all of its factors – open to new possibilities for explanation or causality.  We lack wonder.

Miracles, then, happen at the same pace they always have – we have just decided not to see them as such.  After all, isn’t man the new master of the universe, and the measure of all things?

This piece of sentimental “religious art” would perhaps better read: “Miracles are perceived by those who believe.”