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Original Sin Debate

The inspiration for this post began as a conversation with my youngest daughter. We were driving home the other night she told me that the Religion teacher assigned a research topic with a written report. Her research assignment was original sin.

She then admitted that she chose the topic. Original sin has long been a topic she feels strongly about.

“The relationship between God and man has been broken by original sin. Man could not pull himself up by his own shoe-strings, and thus the only hope of restoration was from God’s side. Yet it was from our side that things had to be put right. It appeared hopeless. But God found the answer. For in Christ he himself became man, and as man reconciled us to himself.”
– John A. T. Robinson (Honest to God, P. 78)

I am willing to bet this notion, outlined by former Bishop John Robinson, is familiar to us all. After all, the Bible is the word of God. The Bible holds God’s moral codes set down for the Church from the beginning of time. God’s word is then interpreted for the Church through God’s anointed servants within the Church hierarchy. Those Church leaders explain that the Cross represents salvation, as salvation is attained by Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross.

Bishop Robinson originally wrote these words as a challenge to our Church leadership. These notions are outmoded Christian concepts that are really only acceptable to more traditional members of the Church. Bishop Robinson was asking for the Church leadership to acknowledge that other less traditional members of the Church need a voice and a platform for greater spiritual growth.

This would include my daughter.

“For many Christians, the significance of the Incarnation is that it ended with an atoning death, one that cleansed impurity, carried away sin, or purchased salvation… Some concept of the incarnation precedes all their atonement concepts, but does not supply the actual content of their atonement reasoning… These notions may be common, but they turn out not to be essential to Christianity…”
– Stephen Finlan (Problems with Atonement, pp. 3-4)

Original sin is a normal conversation in my family. I realize that other families avoid religious topics but that is not our way. All three of my daughters have been discussing theological topics, such as original sin, since they were in Junior High. The original sin doctrine felt wrong to my youngest daughter, even then.

Because she had two older sisters my youngest was exposed to Scripture study earlier in her education. She remembers expressing some concerns about original sin as far back as the 4th grade. She had been taught that the poem of Adam and Eve was not literally true, but actually a story drawn from much older Babylonian myths.

That is why my youngest chose original sin as her research topic.

“the first man was scarcely self-conscious, knew only privation and the wearisome struggle to survive. He was far from possessing the full endowment of reason, which the old doctrine of paradise attributes to him. But once the picture of paradise and the Fall has been broken into pieces, the notion of original sin goes with it, to be followed logically, it would seem, by the notion of redemption as well.”
– Joseph Ratzinger (Faith and the Future, p. 17)

Adam and Eve never existed and the Fall of man was a myth, yet the Church continues to explain Atonement as if the Fall of man were literal. The quote from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was written to say that we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when we acknowledge that Fall, original sin, and redemption are myths.

As Catholics we don’t have to believe this way. My 10th Grade daughter can separate myths from her faith. Catholics, even in Junior High, can understand that Adam and Eve and the Fall of man is a retelling of an ancient Babylonian myth and still be believe in God.

We pray that the Church will allow traditionalists to hold onto their more literalistic interpretation of original sin and at the same time allow non-traditionalists to accept that there is no need for original sin.

I don’t know how the teacher will respond to my daughter’s research paper, but she has had practice broaching controversial theological topics in school.

When Catholic Church leaders allow room for a traditional and non-traditional response to original sin all of us will be more faith filled.

God bless,

Homily: The Resurrection of the Lord [B]

you say: okay, so what? I’ve head that type of story before. What does it matter to me? Why should I care? And that’s when Paul would answer: yes, Jesus has been raised from the dead and God is concerned with bodies. God is concerned with justice. God is concerned with cleaning-up the mess of the world. Here is what we are doing, do you want to join us?
John Dominic Crossan

The readings for the The Resurrection of the Lord cycle B (John 20:1-9) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that John’s Gospel developed many characters. Some of these characters were introduced at the beginning, like Nicodemus. The last character John introduced was the disciple whom Jesus loved, or the beloved disciple. This disciple plays a prominent role in Sunday’s Gospel reading. The beloved disciple was the first to believe in the resurrection.

Since the beloved disciple represents the ideal model for a follower of Jesus we are expected to emulate the beloved disciple and carry out the work of Jesus. In order to emulate this model of a follower of Jesus we are expected to believe in the resurrection.

On Easter we can expect to hear from the pulpit a message of the resurrection. Val Webb, in her sermon Examining Doubts at Easter, tells us that “we are finding we need to tell the Easter story and the transformation of Jesus’ followers in different language and ways.” She says that “many people have trouble today with the resurrection as a condition for belief.”

What I needed was someone to assure me that my doubts were valid — for a clergy person one Easter to address my questions from the pulpit, not simply repeat the biblical soup story as if there was nothing to question, or avoid the discussion altogether to avert the anger of some literalists in the pews.
Val Webb

If we are concerned with the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus we have missed the point John was making. If the resurrection, in order to be real, requires us to see the physical body of Jesus in order to believe we are not emulating the ideal model of a follower of Jesus.

The beloved disciple is truly our model for being a follower of Jesus. When we read the Gospel carefully we will notice that the only thing the beloved disciple saw was an empty tomb. If there were no other resurrection stories recounting visitations of Jesus it would not matter to the beloved disciple. The empty tomb was enough. What does belief in the resurrection really mean?

Val Webb tells us that “what we can be sure of is that some transforming experience happened to the disciples and Paul after the death of Jesus that forced them into a new way of living, a call to new life.” This experience after Jesus died that transformed the disciples is the real resurrection.

We experience the resurrection when we follow the teachings of Jesus. When we love our enemies and turn the other cheek we are experiencing the resurrected Jesus in our lives and that resurrection is then reflected back to others. As long as we continue loving our neighbors as we love ourselves the resurrection of Jesus is real.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the resurrection of Jesus, while not physical, is real. Don’t become distracted by arguments for or against the physical resuscitation of the body of Jesus. Allow the message of Jesus to transform your old life and call you into a new life with the resurrected Jesus.

Death did not stop Jesus from transforming our lives, and through us our world. The kingdom of Heaven on Earth is within our grasp and within our control. This is the reality of the resurrection.

God bless,

Homily: Second Sunday of Lent [B]

…not just as another preacher, but rather as the next step in the history of the Jewish people—truly, the successor, or even fulfillment of the law, represented by Moses, and of the prophets, represented by Elijah.
Rev. Samuel J. Smith

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent cycle B (Mark 9:2-10) can be found here.

The Transfiguration story brings to mind different things for different people. For scripture scholars the Transfiguration ends Jesus’ Galilean ministry and begins His journey to Jerusalem. The scripture scholars also note that form criticism identifies that the Transfiguration story was written to be used in the liturgy of the synagogue, specifically for the Jewish Festival of Lights. Jesus is the new Temple and the light is a reminder of the cleansing and return of the light that dispelled the darkness of the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples of Jesus came to this understanding and Mark built it into the story of the Transfiguration.

I like to think about the “aha” moment when the realization, recognition, and comprehension of Jesus reached a new understanding among His most devoted followers.

This Sunday we are asked to focus on our growth in faith. We are asked to remember the “aha” moments in our faith life.

Think about that time we had our first realization and understanding of Jesus. Think about those feelings and how the disciples of Jesus felt when they reached the moment of the Transfiguration.

To help us reflect on our faith the Rev. Dawn Hutchings has provided a setting. She explains that the “transfiguration of Jesus includes all the elements of a perfect love story. Jesus and his best buddies travel up to the top of a mountain, just like ever other hero of the day, travelled up to the top of a mountain, and when he got there, they had such a great time, it was amazing… Jesus was the one they’d been waiting for all their lives, Jesus was the one who could lead them, and just like the leaders of old, just like Moses and Elijah before him, Jesus had what it takes to move them out of the hell they found themselves in… Let’s pitch a tent and just stay here.”

However, our faith must continue to grow. We can’t be expected to remain in one place forever. The deeper we delve into our faith the richer our experience. The Rev. Dawn Hutchings puts it best when she says that “even though it sounds appealing to stay up there on the mountaintop with Jesus, frozen in time, just the way he was when we first met, there is so much more to the Christ experience…”

This is a time in our Lenten journey to deepen our understanding of Jesus’ message. We need to ask ourselves where is Jesus leading us? As our faith grows we become better at understanding the words of Jesus and better at translating those words to the community around us.

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that as we remember Jesus and His teachings it is helpful to recall how it all began for the disciples and for us. Those feelings bring back strong emotions and during Lent we can rededicate our faith to living the words of Jesus.

I pray that our shared faith experience will lead to building the kingdom of heaven on Earth.

God bless,

Homily: First Sunday of Lent [B]

The kingdom of God is for the earth. The Lord’s Prayer speaks of God’s kingdom coming on earth, even as it already exists in heaven. It is about the transformation of this world
Marcus Borg

The readings for the First Sunday of Lent cycle B (Mark 1:12-15) can be found here.

The scripture scholar will tell you that Mark was the first Gospel written. As such, many stories are short and to the point. Matthew and Luke had Mark in front of them and were able to build on and elaborate those stories. For example, in the Gospel for this Sunday there is only a brief mention of the temptation in the wilderness, which does not include any details.

The Marcan community would not have needed many details because they would have been familiar with many Hebrew scripture stories of prophets and their 40 days and nights of trials and tribulations. The mere mention would have brought to mind stories of Moses and Elijah.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
Exodus 34:27-28

And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.” And [Eli′jah] arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
1 Kings 19:7-8

John Shelby Spong explains that “increasingly the early Christians saw in the Hebrew scriptures the anticipation of the messiah’s life and when they became convinced that Jesus was the expected messiah, they began to interpret these scriptures as anticipatory of their day and of Jesus’ messiahship.”

In this Sunday reading Jesus says the kingdom of God has drawn near. This message is vital for our salvation. Many sermons will likely be centered upon these words of Jesus. The focus will be on the end times, but completely miss what the nearness of kingdom of God means.

Depending on the traditionalist leanings of our parish we are likely to hear sermons about death, judgement, heaven and hell. More time will be spent explaining how to prepare ourselves in this life for the next life. That preparation in this life is meant to help us purify our souls and to break us free from our connection and affection to this world. Does this sound familiar?

The Gospel message of Jesus, this Sunday, is to prepare ourselves in this life to transform our world here and now.

Here are a few phrases I pray we all heard in our Lenten worship this Sunday:

“To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth.” CCC 763

“To welcome Jesus’ word is to welcome ‘the Kingdom itself.'” CCC 764

“The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved.” CCC 765

Christopher Morse, of Union Theological Seminary in New York, tells us that “what the church, or what the majority conventional view of heaven is, is very different from what we find in these biblical testimonies. The end times are not the end of the world — they are the beginning of the real world — in biblical understanding.”

And so it’s not a Platonic, timeless eternity, which is what we were all taught. It is very definitely that there will come a time when God will utterly transform this world — that will be the age to come.
N.T. Wright

We are God’s representatives, and if God will transform this world it will be through us. If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that we are asked to create heaven on Earth. Jesus showed us the way and if we welcome His words we welcome the kingdom.

During this time of Lent we should prepare ourselves by reading the words of Jesus. We should dedicate ourselves to living the teachings of Jesus. At Easter will take a step closer to transforming our world.

The kingdom is at hand.

God bless,

Homily: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

… join the leper at Jesus’ feet and pray, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
Lamar Williamson (Mark) p. 62

The readings for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (mark 1:40-45) can be found here.

The Biblical historian will explain that leprosy is a sign of the wrath of God. If you were stricken with the skin disorder it was clearly a sign that God was punishing you.

One story that clearly illustrates this comes from 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 where we meet king Uzzi′ah. He was prideful, false before God and his anger led to his inevitable destruction. The king contracted leprosy and “they thrust him out quickly, and he himself hastened to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.” Uzzi′ah died an outcast due to his leprosy. Cursed by God, lepers were the lowest people in the Jewish society.

In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus heals a leper by touching him.

The scripture scholar will tell you that Leviticus outlined the rituals and sacrifice needed for a leper to enter back into society. Until these requirements have been met a leper was not allowed to be seen in the midst of the people, let alone touched.

The 1st century Jewish attitude toward leprosy is something all scholars agree on, but the emotional response of Mark’s Jesus continues to spark lively debates. I would be remiss if we did not speak to this scholarly debate in the homily.

The actual words (in Greek) used to describe the emotions of Jesus vary depending on the manuscript. Most manuscripts use the word pity to describe the emotional response of Jesus. A few manuscripts, however, use the word anger to describe Jesus’ response.

The USCCB online text of our Gospel reading represent the general understanding that Jesus is moved by “pity” and cures the leper. The alternative “anger” is likely the authentic word used by Mark, so it deserves to be explored.

The best explanation I have found comes from F. Scott Spencer in his book Horizons in Biblical Theology, Volume 36, Issue 2, pages 107 – 128

A close analysis of Mark 1:40-45, in conjunction with key Markan co-texts (6:14-29; 10:35-52; 14:32-36; 15:6-15) and ancient and modern theories of emotion, demonstrates that the leper chiefly provokes Jesus’ ire by belittling his deep desire or will to heal (ἐὰν θέλῃς).

Once Jesus heals the leper He summarily dismisses the man by showing him the door. Alan Goertemiller puts it this way: “There! Show them that healing comes from a loving touch, and not punishment and demanding ritual!”

What are we to think of an angry and dismissive Jesus? Rabbi Dr. Earl A. Grollman explains that he “was taught as a child, angry thoughts make bad people. Wrong. Angry thoughts make very human people.”

Jesus was human, after all, and we should learn a lesson of compassion from these Gospel verses. Jesus touched and healed a leper. He may have responded in anger, but He also responded with compassion.

It may have been bad form for the leper to question Jesus’ will to heal, but that didn’t stop Jesus from touching the man and healing him.

God heals, but we may often be the essential intermediaries through whom God’s will is accomplished, whether that means a curing of the body or a healing of the spirit, whether we are medical practitioners, chaplains, or loved ones. This means that each of us has a responsibility as well as a response-ability.
Christina M. Puchalski (A Time for Listening and Caring) p. 209

In the Jewish community healing has two components; physical healing and spiritual healing. Jesus cured the leprosy and the physical health was restored, but Jesus also knew to send the man to the temple to perform the sacrificial examination and rites to enter back into the Jewish society so that the spiritual health could be restored.

As Church we have an obligation to be a conduit of compassion for Jesus to our society. If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to remember that there will be times when we get angry but we cannot forget to be compassionate. In our compassion we must also remember to heal the person both physically and spiritually.

Who pushes your buttons? Who gets on your last nerve? Who should we touch and heal?

If it were easy anybody could do it, but it is hard so we will leave it to those who folow Jesus.

God bless,

Homily: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

“In communion with Him and with one another, let us discover once again where and for whom the Lord is calling us today to serve in His name.”
Sr. Mary Sujita (9th Superior General of the Sisters of Notre Dame)

The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (Mark 1:29-39) can be found here.

The scripture scholars understand the healings and exorcisms written in the Gospels through the discipline of “Form Criticism.” Scholars will tell you that the formulaic structures of these stories indicate use in liturgical settings, such as synagogue worship services. These stories of healing and exorcism fit well with the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, and perhaps they were written and used for just this purpose.

Mark Allan Powell tells us in his book Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee that “the healings and exorcisms were experienced as an incursion of otherworldly power. Historically, we must acknowledge that Jesus presented himself as a person through whom such power could and did operate, and that those around him experienced him as a channel of such power. The fact that the power was said to operate for healing is also significant, for it indicates what sort of spirit person Jesus was.”

What sort of spirit people are we?

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.
Mark 9:38-40

In the healing traditions of the Catholic Church we have something called Extreme Unction. The words may sound strange to you, but you know them by another name; Last Rites, or Anointing of the Sick.

Richard Rohr called Extreme Unction a “sin management system” because we tended to use the anointing as the last chance to get things right with God. Healing does not have to be a last ditch effort. We are called to heal and in the process transform ourselves and our communities.

Extreme Unction may be as close as we get to experiencing the healing touch of Jesus, and it is sad that it only comes at the end of our lives.

Megan McKenna, in her book Tasting the Word of God: Commentaries on the daily lectionaries, tells us that “the disciples have seen Jesus heal, and now they are sent out to the villages with the authority to heal and cast out any spirit that hinders people from living as the children of God, imitating his own work.”

Megan also reminds us that “as believers, this is our work, our calling together – some for a lifetime, others for a time of apprenticeship and learning, others to encourage and sustain those on the road for the Lord.”

So, this is our work as believers, and if we are going to imitate Jesus and heal people, we are going to get our hands dirty. This is not something we can add to a list of prayer intentions or names of people we pray for during hourly adoration. No, if we are going to imitate Jesus we need to recognize those people in our lives that need healing and offer the compassion of Jesus.

Another item to note; Jesus did not heal only those who were Jews. There was no litmus test for people to be deserving of healing. Jesus didn’t even require people to believe in God before they were healed. If we are going to imitate Jesus we are called to heal Atheists as well as Christians.

A man asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah, the five books of Moses, while standing on one foot. And Hillel did.

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Torah, he said. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.
Modern Lessons From Hillel

If you ask, how do I heal those around me, the answer begins with compassion. We need to eliminate our emphasis on being right and replace it with compassion for others.

If you take one thing from this homily it should be to search your heart and ask yourself what is painful to you, then never bring that pain to somebody else. That is the sort of spirit people we are called to be.

It will not be easy because we have created lepers and outcasts in our society and we are encouraged to treat those people with injustice, inequality and lack of respect. Some of our religious leaders have institutionalized injustice, inequality and lack of respect, but we can always turn to Jesus for our example.

I pray that when you hear words of violence, hatred, or disdain for others that you will remember instead those stories of Jesus healing the sick and respond with compassion.

God bless,

Homily: Second Sunday of Ordinary Time [B]

Peter was, at all events, specially marked out from among the twelve, by being the first witness to Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5; Lk. 24:34); as the first of the Easter witnesses, he may be regarded as the Rock of the Church.
Hans Kung (Church) p. 456

The readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time cycle B (John 1:35-42) can be found here.

Scripture scholars will tell you that our Gospel reading comes from the first section of the Book of Signs where Jesus begins his public ministry by gathering disciples. Baptizing John completes his role as witness to the Messiah by declaring Jesus to be the Lamb of God and releasing his disciples to Jesus.

“We have found the Messiah.” The focal point for our homily today is the confession of Andrew and the summons to conversion of Simon Peter.

This summons to conversion is not just for Simon Peter, but rather for us all.

It all begins with the confession of Andrew. In this, Andrew represents the early Johannine community who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. This is also reflected in our community today as the Church confesses that Jesus is Lord.

Our role is to be like Simon Peter, recognizing the witness of the Church as a summons to conversion and then to seek Jesus.

Theologian J. Rodman Williams tells us, in his book Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, that “Jesus doubtless saw what was in the man Simon… but He also perceived the Peter that Simon could become… Jesus’ faith was finally vindicated and Simon became the Rock of the early church.”

Bishop John Shelby Spong explains, in his book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, that “we readers must recognize that Peter’s struggle is in fact every person’s struggle. He had been born of flesh years before. His ability to be born of the spirit would test everything his life seemed to mean and it would be an intensely difficult labor.”

If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the confession of Andrew; “we have found the Messiah,” is as relevant for us all today as it was in the 1st century.

We were all born of flesh and called to be born of Spirit through conversion as disciples of Jesus.

As disciples we are people who believe in Jesus, even though our faith may be inadequate. In this, Simon Peter represents us all. His struggle reflects our struggle. His success shows us that we too can answer the call to conversion.

Whatever is holding down our ability to be born of the Spirit can be overcome. Prejudice, bigotry, tribalism, triumphalism, xenophobia, partisanship, discrimination, etc., make up a partial list of things that hold down the Spirit. We are summoned to conversion, and Simon Peter can be our model. Though we may fail more than succeed we must never give up.

I pray you answer the summons to conversion and never give up.

God bless,