The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 23, 2001 Issue
Foundations of Faith

Back to the beginning - and beyond - in Christ

Christ leads us beyond original sin to unity with God

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Last week, we explored how we were originally created to live in holiness, justice and friendship with God. But, through our own choice to put ourselves first before God, we separated ourselves from God and lost the original state of holiness. The separation left us wounded and flawed, a state we call original sin.

Our plans - our choices, desires, self-centeredness - got, and still get, in the way of our union with God.

But God's still-unfolding plan had another dimension. We couldn't find the way back to our original holy union. But God gave us that way back. It was called Jesus.

We talked about original sin last week, but we cannot separate the doctrine of original sin from that of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery. The three are inextricably linked.

First, the beauty of the Incarnation - God becoming one with human nature.

"Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him," Vatican II tells us, "has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare. For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands. He thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved" (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22).

Christ was like us in all things, truly human. The Incarnation united God and humanity completely, inseparably. God and humanity became one. That is why we profess Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man.

"God comes in the person of the Son of God and takes on human flesh," says Boston College theology professor Fr. Robert Imbelli. "But 'flesh' here means taking on human life in its entirely.. It is human life in all its grandeur and vulnerability that is assumed."

Jesus took on human nature - as we say, "was made sin for us." Paul tells us that, "For our sake, he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2Cor 5:21).

Dr. Mary Ann Getty of Saint Vincent College explains "being made sin" in this way: "For our sakes God made the sinless one sin so that redemption could penetrate the darkest, most forbidding, isolated, and inhuman part of our human experience. This was so that God, in Christ, could bring us to holiness."

Christ did not know sin - and did not have original sin - but he knew in his own experiences, in his own body, the effects of original sin. Through him, God took part in the pain, alienation, weakness and vulnerability that are the consequences of original sin.

"In its various forms - material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death - human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself." (CCC, 2448)

Through the incarnation, by willingly taking human nature upon himself, Jesus became "the new Adam" (Ad Gentes, 1:3). But he is not like the old Adam in his relationship to God. As Paul reminds us, Jesus "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at" (Ph 2:6). Adam did grasp and by doing so he, and his descendants, "let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness" (CCC. no. 397).

And that is where Christ, like us in every way but sin, truly became the new Adam. He obeyed and trusted in God's goodness, to the point of the cross itself. There, on Calvary, Christ took human vulnerability - all the weaknesses and experiences that lead to pain and suffering, that human condition that is the result of the state of original sin - most completely into his own humanity. There - through the mystery we call Paschal - he transformed the human condition, not only restoring original blessing but resurrecting it into something completely new.

Not only is original sin destroyed and our original blessed state restored through Christ's Paschal Mystery of death, resurrection and ascension to God, but that blessed state is transformed into something never seen before - glorified humanity and a new creation.

In our first blessing, our original justice and holiness, we were created to be one with God. We were intimate friends of God, but we were still creatures, created beings. Now, through Christ's Incarnation and Pascal Mystery, our humanity was transformed into divinity.

"The Word became flesh to make us 'partakers in the divine nature.' For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man; so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity assumed our nature so that he, made man, might make men gods" (no. 460).

Through Christ, by the power of the Spirit poured out on us in Baptism, we are called to share in the divinity of Christ. "We are restored to his likeness by grace," the cathechism tells us, "and we must respond to this grace" (no. 2784).

Responding to that grace means seeking to conform ourselves to the humanity of Christ. The ability to conform ourselves to Christ is God's free gift through the Spirit. The more we accept the gift and allow the Spirit to conform our lives to Christ example - to Christ's humanity - the more Christ takes that humanity, that oneness with his own flesh - and transforms it into his own divinity.

God allows us, through his beloved Son, to become at one with the Trinity that is a circle of self-giving love.

That's not just original sin being wiped out. That's not just showing the way back to original holiness. That's the revelation of a far more glorious destiny - to become children of God, at one with the very being of God's only-begotten Son.

We don't become God through our own acts - which the lesson of Genesis says that humans failed to learn from the start. No, Christ does this for us. When we say "yes" to Christ through the sacraments, through the Paschal Mystery, through the Spirit, Christ transforms us into beings at one with God.

(Sources: The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia; Vatican II documents Ad Gentes and Gaudium et Spes; Catechism of the Catholic Church; The Collegeville Bible Commentary)

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