Lent is off to a busy start. On Ash Wednesday I gave a talk to the Mother's Guild at my Alma Mater, Marquette University High School, and this past weekend I began a mission at St. Dominic's Church in nearby Brookfield, Wisconsin. On Sunday I also squeezed into the afternoon two talks on the subject of "Reparation" at the annual Lenten Afternoon of Recollection for the local chapter of Catholics United for the Faith. One good thing about giving talks like these is that it gives me material to share on this blog.
On the First Sunday of Lent we always have the story of Jesus' temptations in the desert. This year the first reading that accompanied that Gospel was the story of the first temptation in Genesis 3. The second reading from Romans 5 was the perfect accompaniment to both these readings. But there is something in all this that I used to protest against when I was young. Why did I have to suffer for the sin of Adam and Eve? Why did I have to suffer the consequences or effects of their sin? Why is there Original Sin? I could see why we call that first sin of our ancestral parents the "Original Sin," but why did I have to inherit it? St. Paul wrote that "by the transgression of the one, the many died," and that "by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one." It just didn't seem fair that "through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners."
I've come to see that lurking behind this question is sin--the sin of individualism. The fact of the matter is that there is no individual sin. What I do affects everyone else. It's false to justify sin by saying, "Well, I'm only hurting myself."
How is it that my sin affects others? First, humanity, according to Genesis, was made in the image and likeness of God. God is a Trinity of Persons, a Communion of Love and therefore Love Itself. We are not individuals isolated from one another but persons created for communion. To say that what I do only affects or hurts me is to deny who I am and who I am called to be.
Another way of looking at this is to think of the solidarity of the human family. God is the Creator and Father of this family. We are related to one another as children of the One Father. What one person does in this family affects the life of the family, for good or for ill.
Finally, as Christians we have been baptized into the Body of Christ. We are now not isolated individuals but interconnected parts. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, describing the Body of Christ that we are: "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (verse 26). We know from experience how one cell in the physical body can harm and destroy the entire body. A cancer cell is one that has gone wild, that no longer serves the good of the body but grows and spreads. All it takes is one cell. In terms of the spiritual body that we are, this is even more the case. We are each cells in the Body of Christ and when one cell insists on its "will" rather than the good of the whole, rather than the will of the Head, the Body becomes sick.
So, while it doesn't seem fair that the one sin of our ancestral parents should be passed on to every generation, it's the reality of how things work in the interconnectedness of the human family made in the image and likeness of God, the Blessed Trinity.
But this is less than half the story, for the interconnectedness works the other way as well. Good cells affect the health of the entire Body. Jesus, as the Head of the Body, who came to repair the damage of the Original Sin, has done something that affects every human. In the Second Reading from Sunday's Mass, St. Paul writes: "But the gift is not like the transgression. For it by the transgression of the one, 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. And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned."
Lent is a time for each of us, individual cells in the Body of Christ, to grow in our union with our Head, Jesus. It's a time to make sure that the flow of Life from the Vine to the branches (see John 15) is clear and strong.