Renew 2000 Column
|Bishop Robert J. Banks
Making the whole family better: We can't do it alone
With Jesus' help, we can confront the evils of our day
By Bishop Robert Banks
God's Human Family is the topic for this week's faith-sharing, but the Scripture readings
for Sunday are mainly about keeping the Commandments. How do we put the two
It depends on how we see human nature. If human nature is fine, then all we have to do is
figure out the political, social, psychological and economic solutions that will get rid of
problems like war, genocide, exploitation of the poor and the unequal sharing of the
The Commandments might be of some help in doing that, but, basically, victory will
come when everyone simply agrees that we should live together peacefully, sharing
equally all God's gifts. After all, doesn't everyone want that? We just have to agree on
how to do it.
If, however, we believe that human nature is a created nature and therefore limited, and if
we believe that, while human nature is basically good, it has also acquired through
original sin a certain inclination toward evil, then God and God's grace and God's
Commandments become central in dealing with the problems that burden God's human
The tendency today is to go with the first explanation of human nature. Despite the fact
that the 20th century was the bloodiest in history as human beings forced their ideas of a
better life on millions of people all over the globe, there is a general feeling today in our
country and even in our Church that if we just try a little harder, we shall find the
solution to the world's problems.
Perfection yet to come
That bumper sticker, "If you want peace, work for justice!" can be read as a perfect
example of this optimistic view of human nature. It is true that we should work for
justice. And it is true that there is a better chance of peace in a just society. But both
peace and justice are ultimately gifts of God, and their perfection will come when Jesus
Christ comes in glory.
The Christian view of human nature is more stark and well expressed in the Catechism of
the Catholic Church. Because of original sin, human nature "is wounded in the natural
powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and
inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called 'concupiscence'." (n.405)
The Church also sees human life involved in a struggle with evil, with Satan. The Bible
pictures this struggle as beginning with the very first couple, Adam and Eve, and
continuing through history. It even pictures Jesus confronting the Evil One before he
begins his public ministry. And the promise of Jesus to his Church through Peter is: "And
so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of
the netherworld shall not prevail against it." But the words are hardly out of Jesus'
mouth, before he has to say to Peter, who tried to assure Jesus that he would not suffer
because of his ministry, "Get behind me, Satan" (Mt. 16:13-23).
By this time, you must be saying to yourself, "The poor bishop must have had a hard day.
He sounds so depressed." No way! It is only when you confront fully the true human
condition as it is revealed in Scripture and experienced in real life that you appreciate
what it means to be saved by Jesus Christ. As St. Paul says, "For if the wrongdoing of
that one man (Adam) brought death upon so many; its effect is vastly exceeded by the
grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of the one man, Jesus
Christ." (Rm 5:15)
The victory of our Savior, Jesus Christ over sin, Satan and death is what led Paul to exult,
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present
things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be
able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rm 8:37-39)
And that brings us to the Commandments, especially the ones lifted up by Jesus in
today's Gospel: to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The original sin
depicted in the Bible was Adam and Eve disobeying God's command not to eat of the
fruit of 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.' The lesson of that story is that we
are dependent on God the Creator and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral
norms that govern the use of freedom.
But the Bible tells us the result of that first sin was that humans were slow to learn the
lesson. After the Fall, the very first sin tore apart the human family. Cain killed his
brother, Abel, and when called to account by God, answered with the unforgettable
question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
We have help
That is the world in which you and I want to restore love and unity to the human family. The task exceeds our grasp, but we are called to it by Jesus who gives us both the Commandments, especially those of love, and the Holy Spirit to carry them out. As Jesus poured out his blood for us on the Cross, he spoke to us of the family God wanted to bring into existence. He gave us Mary as mother and himself as brother. According to the Scriptures, the first sermon by the Apostle Peter on Pentecost was heard in their own language by people from many different countries.
The Christian, therefore, has a special mindset as he or she works to make real the fact of the one human family. The difficulty of the task is recognized; we shall not be surprised by martyrdom, either for the faith or for justice. The motivation is a generous and genuine love for the individuals and peoples of this one family. Among the results should be the citizens of a rich, free nation like ours taking seriously our obligation to do what we can to erase poverty in the poorest nations and to support freedom where we can.
Do I have to say anything about our nation rolling in a surplus of billions while in much of the world families do not have access to clean water, basic health care, and elementary education? Our response as a nation?