By Father John Cush
This first Sunday of Lent affords us the opportunity to reflect upon exactly what it is we are trying to combat in this holy season of Lent, namely sin. In all three readings, we learn not only about the nature of sin itself but also the remedy for sin.
In the first reading, taken from the Book of Genesis, we learn of the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and their fall from their primordial state of original innocence. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 389 reminds us, the Church’s doctrine of original sin is “the reverse side” of the Good News. The ultimate truth is the Good News of our faith: Salvation comes in and through Christ Jesus, our Lord. As the Catechism reminds us: “The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ.”
This reality of sin is something that we must keep in mind as we journey throughout Lent and as we progress in our Christian life. I had the opportunity as a seminarian to spend an entire summer in England in the mid-1990s. Part of my time was spent living and assisting in a nearby parish in Oxfordshire.
One of the tasks that I was given as a young seminarian was to work with the schoolchildren who were still in session at the parish school until mid-July. On my first day there, one of the catechists had said to me: “Whatever you do, please do not mention the ‘s’ word to the children.”
I struggled to think of what words beginning with “s” I should not mention in front of children and then quickly was informed that the “s” word was “sin” and that I should not mention it because it makes people feel bad. If sin makes people feel bad, that’s a good thing, because sin is a bad thing indeed!
Let’s take a few moments to clarify what we mean by sin before we can look at the Good News of the Gospel to learn a remedy for sin. First, we have to start with original sin, which we learn about in the first reading today. So, what exactly is original sin? We read in the Catechism that original sin is, ultimately, lack of trust in the Creator and abuse of the great gift of free will given to us from God our Father (CCC 397).
In this sin of choosing to disobey the one thing that the Creator had asked our first parents to do, namely not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve forget their place in the universe. They forgot that God is Creator and that they are creatures. They who were called to be “like God” suddenly decided that they wanted to be “without God, before God and not in accordance with God” (CCC 398).
They who were created in the image and likeness of God began to reflect a distorted likeness (CCC 400), almost as in a funhouse mirror. Everything is put into disarray, and all relationships are thrown asunder.
Divided and Disordered
In human relationships, the human being is divided in himself and in his thoughts. He knows in the deepest part of his soul that he is created to know, serve and love God in this life and to be with Him in the next. But if he’s honest, he knows he really wants to serve himself first. His focus is on the things of this world, not on his true home, Heaven. The human being’s relationship with the world is now disordered.
As the Catechism reminds us, “visible creation has become alien and hostile to man,” and relationships with fellow humans has become difficult. Even the most primordial relationship, that of man and woman, is “subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination.” (CCC 400). We see the bad fruits of sin: a three-fold alienation of the human being from God, others and self. And we see the true wages of sin: death.
We learn that this original sin leads to personal sin. Oftentimes, people seem to be unclear as to a definition of what’s a sin and what isn’t a sin. It’s actually quite simple. Again, we can turn to the Catechism (1849) to glean a clearer understanding: “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.’”
We know there are two types of sin: mortal sin, which destroys charity in our heart and turns us away from the love that is God Himself, and venial sin, which permits charity – that fundamental aspect of our spiritual life – to exist in a lesser, weakened and wounded form (CCC 1859).
What then constitutes a sin? Basically, it is three things: grave matter, full knowledge and complete consent (CCC 1857-1860). We have to know that what we’re doing is wrong and freely choose to do it anyway. Sin can be something that we do (sins of commission) or what we fail to do (sins of omission), or it can be participation in an action or an attitude that we know flies in the face of our own dignity and the dignity of our sisters and brothers in the world.
This is the sad diagnosis of our spiritual sickness. In and through Christ Jesus and His Bride, the Church, we are given the prescription for the cure of this illness. Next week, we will grow in a greater understanding of the cure that Christ came to reveal in His Sacred Person.[hr]
Readings for the First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7
Psalm 51: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
Romans 5: 12-19 or Romans 5: 12, 17-19
Matthew 4: 1-11[hr] Father Cush is a priest assigned to doctoral studies in fundamental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy.