Tag Archives: original sin

September 10: Jesus beyond Dogma, VIII. The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death.

Adam&Eve (391x640)

Dryburgh Abbey

The Doctrine of Original Sin is the doctrine of unnecessary death. Forgiveness is not an external absolution from what we have done or failed to do it penetrates to the very core of who we are, making us able to become what we are receiving. The crucified and risen Christ reveals how wrong we are about God and ourselves with God, not wrong as in mistaken but in such a manner that we can give thanks for the joy of being wrong, and showing the non-essential nature of our mortality.

Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel redefines sin for us, with an understanding worked by Jesus. He was asked about the blind man’s affliction [whose sin was it]. Blindness was believed to be a moral defect, barring the sufferer from sharing cultic life through being unclean. Jesus heals him on the Sabbath – so much for cultic barring – then comes his exclusion. To recognise the cure would mean acknowledging Jesus as coming from God. Instead they become more aggressive in their questioning and finally throw the man out. He had never seen Jesus, his sight only returned when he washed in the pool of Siloam; but his witness increases from saying Jesus is a good man to saying he is a man from God – superior to Moses.

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He comes more aware of Jesus during his exclusion – while the Sadducees are more and more hardened. Jesus says: for judgement I came into the world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. Jesus has made no judgement as yet – it is by being crucified that he judges his judges. Jesus is the cause of the blind man’s exclusion – which means the blind man shares Jesus’ role as judge of those expelling him. Jesus does not do away with judgement, but with the accepted notion of judgement.

What does this say about sin? The ever increasing history of expulsions culminates on Calvary. As the story begins blindness is seen as a moral defect, making the man ritually unclean. The story finishes with sin clearly in the act of expelling. What the Gospel refers to as the sin of the world is being involved in the work of your father, the devil. Sin is the mechanism of exclusion, and they are blind sinners whoever is complicit in this. There is no problem with the partially blind – they don’t know what they are doing. The sinners are those who are, by choice, part of the exclusion process, claiming to know [see] they are doing God’s work.

Jesus doesn’t abolish sin, rather he identifies it for what it is. Sin is not what excludes [blindness] but the act of excluding by those claiming to see, and are doing God’s work. There has been blindness in the world from the beginning; only now is it identified and shows itself able to be healed – when not blocked by those claiming to know what they are doing and who persist in excluding. Peter excluded Jesus in betraying, but discovered, albeit painfully, that he could be forgiven.

We are all blind about Jesus, the light of the world come to enlighten us. He is rejected by some who, though blind, claim to see what they are doing. When the blindness in which we all share is compounded by actively excluding by any claiming to see – then is it culpable. In this 9th Chapter of John we have at once the world view of sin and the way Jesus has come to heal us of it. Human culture from its very beginning – with Cain and Abel – through our saying no to God is both murderous and mendacious.

This is the insight from the Resurrection. To believe in Jesus is to experience the forgiveness of sin, the risen victim of exclusions is forgiveness. Being wrong can be forgiven through accepting a relationship with forgiveness, it is the insistence on claiming to be right without the relationship that brings us to having no need for forgiveness – I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t need Jesus!

The first fruits of the Resurrection bring a new way of seeing God, along with a new undersaustintanding of humankind situated within death’s parameters – by our own choosing – prone to exclude in order to justify; but now revealed as capable of forgiveness for any who will accept this new way of seeing. At last, no longer clinging to I believe in God…but discovering how and why God believes in me.

 AMcC

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19 February: Intergalactic Discoveries XXII: Peeeeeeeeeeeep! Peeeeeeeeeeep!

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Peeeeeeeeeeeep! Peeeeeeeeeeep! Will Turnstone stopped walking across Margate sands and about turned. A policeman was gesturing from the promenade. ‘Are those your dogs, Sir?’ he shouted.
Will called Abel, who was leading the Chihuahuas, or were they leading him?  They all walked towards the Waste Land shelter, where the police sergeant had parked his Land Rover. ‘You should have them on the lead, you know. And surely these are not your dogs. I see them out with a tall guy with glasses. What are you doing with them?’
‘We’re walking them for Mr T while he gets some writing done, aren’t we Abel? Abel’s my grandson. And Abel had them on the lead; no case to answer, tear up your ticket.’
‘Someone said much the same to me once before, Mr Turnstone. You remember me, I’m Callum Waters from Saint Darren’s School; it’s your voice gives you away.’
‘Certainly not my grey hair,’ said Will, ‘but I could hardly forget you and Liam. I guess you’ve given up smoking now?’
‘I need to stay fit, driving round all day. But we didn’t turn out so bad; Liam was in the Marines, saw some terrible things before he left. He’s living in Donegal now.’
‘And you’ve seen your share of trouble, in your job, no doubt. I’m glad we caught up after thirty years. And one thing. Thank you for that day you told me to go home because I was still poorly. You were right. And Miss Everard was totally wrong when she told me you were a nasty piece of work. I wanted to prove her wrong, but it’s you that did that, even if she could not see it.
We’d best get these dogs home and this boy back to his parents. Put it there, Callum, you’ve made my day.’
 
 Will , Ajax and Alfie on another day. Chihuahuas hate rain or water in any form except in bowls for drinking.

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Autumn Evening Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack will be speaking on Thursday evenings this term. I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
WT.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?
8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

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9 October: CONSCIENCE II: Presence to the Self.

Picture Friday wk 3 (1)

We are reflecting together for a few days on the notion of conscience.  Here is a passage I love from The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience.  This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection: “Return to your conscience, question it… Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness” [no. 1779].

It would seem that being present to oneself ought to be perfectly natural.  Why even mention it?  Yet, anyone who has begun to take seriously the challenge of living an interior life every day (and not just sometimes) soon discovers that it is far from easy.  Sooner or later, a painful absence of harmony within ourselves and with others becomes evident.  This is one of the results of original sin, and, as The Catechism expresses it, ‘…the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered….’ [see no. 400].

Our capacity to be present to ourselves, our capacity for true interiority is therefore impaired.  Unless we try to do something about this, we will only be living out of a small and superficial portion of ourselves.  We will be vulnerable to any fads or addictions that seem to promise release from our inner disharmony.  Without working on our interior life, without understanding what our conscience is, we will not have the strength to adhere to what is good.  We need our conscience in order to fulfil our human potential and claim our dignity as human persons.

Yet, many people today do not desire to be present to themselves.  We are apt to go to great lengths to avoid being alone with ourselves.  In the car, music must be playing, as it is in most shops.  In many homes the television is on all day long, largely unwatched, but providing background noise and the possibility of self-distraction whenever the mind is insufficiently occupied with the task at hand.  Now the Internet, with its instant communication, unlimited entertainment, and information on tap, means that some sort of contact with others whenever we want can entice us away from being present to ourselves.  Even people who have discovered how unsatisfying a life of self-distraction can be can testify that giving up their distractions was deeply challenging at first.  I doubt former ages were really very different from ours.  Our alienation from our deeper self is as old as the human race.  Self-distraction simply took other forms in other eras.

The reason we are considering the subject of presence to ourselves is to examine the necessity of living in touch with our conscience.  The quotation from The Catechism with which I began this post suggests that there is a step one and a step two with regard to conscience.  Here is step one: with Christ, with his grace, we must first work to acquire presence to ourselves.  This involves turning off the electronic media gadgets from time to time, it means self-discipline, prayer, a measure of silence and a willingness to be alone sometimes.  And step two: there must be some self-questioning going on.  We need to look at our thoughts and our instinctive drives and to ask them where they are taking us and whether they accord with true goodness.  In this way we will draw near to the reality of our conscience.  I would like to explore this in the next few posts.

SJC.

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Are we listening? Open Lectures at FISC.

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September 10: Interruption: Evening Talks at FISC this Autumn.

austin

Our writer Friar Austin (AMcC) is proposing to offer the following series of talks next term. These will be given on Monday Evenings at 7.00 from 10th October (TBC).

1.  Can Church teaching change?

2. What did God really reveal?

3. What about Papal infallibility?

4. Explain the Eucharist.

5. Who is Jesus Christ?

6. What difference does Grace make?

7. Have we forgotten Original Sin?

8. What morality did Jesus teach?

9. Renounce the world or change it?

10. Is there salvation in other religions?

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July 24, John Cassian VIII: Storing up Honey

 

 

Yesterday we saw that Cassian teaches the necessity of interior “fasting.”  The person who does not practice fasting from cynicism, jealousy, anger and so forth, on the level of his heart, stores up poison there.  These vices, largely connected with the way we view our neighbour, are so many offences against love of neighbour, therefore.

For Cassian in the fifth century, as for us in the twenty-first, the wisdom lies in “owning” our problems, as we say now.  Then we are less apt to project them onto a friend, spouse, colleague, son or daughter.  Cassian goes even deeper.  There is a profound benefit to be gained within the vessel of the heart if we own our problems.  It changes not only the way we look at others, it changes our very heart.  Here is what he advises:

[We] must not seek all kinds of virtue from one person.  For there is one adorned with the flowers of knowledge, another who is more strongly fortified by the practice of discretion, another who is solidly founded in patience, one who excels in the virtue of humility and another in that of abstinence, while still another is decked with the grace of simplicity.  Therefore [he] who, like a most prudent bee, is desirous of storing up spiritual honey must suck the flower of a particular virtue from those who possess it more intimately and he must lay it up carefully in the vessel of his heart (Institutes 5:IV).

If we can manage to overlook the rather flowery fifth-century language, we can see that this is good news indeed.  There is nothing unrealistic here.  The person described by Cassian knows that no one possesses every virtue in its fullness.  But rather than despairing, or posing as the perennial critic, such a person is beginning to realise that every sign of goodness he finds in others represents a great victory for grace.  He accepts that there will be a certain unevenness in the goodness of all people.  Still, to recognise what is good in others is to “store up spiritual honey.”  This bears fruit on the level of his heart.  It becomes “sweet.”

SJC.

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July 23, John Cassian VII: What are we Storing Up?

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Say we have persevered in our endeavour to face our “shadow”, and to dispossess ourselves of superfluous material goods.  Say we have even managed to make some headway here, and have not slipped back into “compulsive consumerism”, but have gradually come to live a life of greater freedom from such an addiction.  Then, Cassian challenges us to take a closer look at the vessel of our heart.  This is what he says to those who have begun to do the real work of facing their evil thoughts:

…[W]e should not believe that mere fasting from visible food can suffice for our [purity] of heart if a fasting of the soul has not also been joined to it, for it has its own harmful foods by which it is fattened.  Its food is detraction, and it is delightful indeed.  Its food is anger, as well.  Envy is the food of the mind, corrupting it ceaselessly with someone else’s prosperity and success.  Vainglory is its food.  If, then, we abstain from these as much as we are able, we shall well and aptly observe bodily fasting (Institutes 5:21).

 

mercylogoThe heart needs to fast, according to Cassian.  Gluttony has a spiritual counterpart.  A true Christian is not one who lives and eats abstemiously, while maintaining the personality of a cynical critic.  He is a person who knows his own imperfections and is therefore able to be merciful to others as they struggle with their own weaknesses.

The question, ‘What are we storing up?’ has many layers.  Have we noticed pride in our heart, maybe?  Anger?  Impatience?  With searing insight, Cassian says,

Sometimes, when we have been overcome by pride or impatience we complain that we are in need of solitude, as if we would find the virtue of patience in a place where no one would bother us, saying that [our faults] stem not from our own impatience but from our neighbours’ faults.  But, as long as we attribute our own wrongdoing to other people, we shall never be able to get near to patience (Institutes 8: XVI).

Here, John Cassian enjoins us simply to own our problems and not pine for an existence free of all annoyances in the belief that under such circumstances our anger and impatience would disappear.  Disturbances to our supposed equilibrium do not cause our moral weaknesses, teaches Cassian; on the contrary, they merely expose them.  If we were never provoked, we would imagine ourselves to be virtuous, whereas in fact, we simply have not been put to the test.

SJC.

Picture: CD.

 

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July 22, John Cassian VI: Conversion of Thought

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In modern language, we might say that the eight evil thoughts, as enumerated by John Cassian, are our “shadow side”, for, says Cassian, “they exist in everyone, yet no one knows of them until they are laid open by the teaching of the elders and the Word of the Lord”.

No one knows of them because, as we would say now, we deny that side of ourselves.  Yet, far from suggesting that the confrontation with our evil thoughts is a sign that we are back-sliding, Cassain tells us that this is a sign of progress.

What are these evil thoughts?  According to Cassian they are:

gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, sadness, sloth (or acedia), vainglory and pride.

mercylogoTo explore his treatment of each vice would go beyond the scope of these posts.  But, it is still worth noting that these tendencies, Cassian maintains, are just part of the human package, like it or not.  This is not such bad news, however.  The fact that we have the ability to see these tendencies within ourselves is a sign that God is there, providing the light by which they are seen (Conferences 23, XVII, 3).

SJC.

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5 June, Year of Mercy: Mercy is what God would be in all of us!

 Adam&Eve (391x640)

Adam and Eve at Dryburgh Abbey ruins, Scotland. MMB.

mercylogoFor Pope John XXIII Christian meant the most beautiful way to own God as mercy. Opening Vatican II he said what our world needs is the medicine of mercy. John Paul II, who knew innocent suffering from personal experience in his homeland under Nazi Germany – living close-by Auschwitz – and through the assassination attempt on his life said, Justice alone is not sufficient.

The tragedy of World War II helped highlight mercy as the source of hope.

The Church must spread the fire of mercy to the whole world. Benedict XVI quoting his predecessor said: Easter’s secret is God’s mercy.

Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”. This occurs when we, the summit of creation, stop contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraw into selfishness. When we think only of ourselves, of our own interests and place ourselves in the centre, when we let ourselves be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when we put ourselves in God’s place, and all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict.

This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: we enter into conflict with ourselves, realising we are naked and we hide because we are afraid (cf. Genesis 3: 10), afraid of God’s glance. The man accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”? No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear…

It is exactly in this chaos that God asks: where is your brother? (Genesis 4:9). Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, we are our brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a change occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters.

AMcC

 

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