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Tea With Papa Benedict

alec vanderboom

To console my heart from missing our Holy Father, I reading little snippets from "The Essential Pope Benedict XVI" during my morning coffee break.

Today I found a great nugget of wisdom about original sin:

"It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself of herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without-from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves; they live in those whom they love an in those who love them and to whom they are present. Human beings are relational, and they posses their lives-themselves-only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for.

But sin means the damaging or destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. Sin is loss of relationships, a disturbance of relationship, and , therefore, it is not restricted to the individual. When I destroy a relationship, then this event-sin-touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationship is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment when a person beings human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought." (Scripture, page 265)

Our beloved Holy Father does have a way with words! I feel like I'm starting to grasp the mystery of original sin at last (and only after being the parent witness of three baptisms).

Reading these words make the social "sin" of slavery so obvious to me. When a little child to a slave, his experiences in life are already horribly damaged as a result of the "sin" that let his mother be owned. The little newborn did nothing to "cause" this sin. Innocent or not, the sin of slavery will continue to haunt his relationships with all people (slave or free, black or white) for the rest of his life.

Taking a step into more abstract territory, each of us is equally marked by the slavery of sin, since we are "daughters of Eve." It may be less obvious to see at first, but not if we look at our life and family relationships through our spiritual eyes.

A beloved reader once posted a question about child abuse on her blog. With a kind Catholic heart, she is considering adopting a little boy who was removed into foster care after his father punched him in the jaw. "What makes a parent punch a child so hard to break a jaw?" she asked. "How can such evil exist? Why do innocent children have to suffer?"

I felt uncomfortable reading that post. Unfortunately, I've come across even worse details of child abuse in my former life as a lawyer. However, this was the first time I'd considered such questions as a parent. A parent who falls into sin, A LOT. Granted, I'm blessed not to be physically violent with my kids (and I'm sure this reader would say that line not being crossed means everything) but sin is sin is sin, it's just a matter of degrees. Screaming hysterically at my kids in one of my fits of anger might not get my kids removed from my home, but it still scars them. My sin, which comes out of my damaged, impure heart and then actively hurts the hearts of my children, makes Jesus very, very sad.

Thankfully, the cure is Christ. As Pope Benedict explains, "Only being loved is being saved, and only God's love can purify damaged human love and radically reestablish the network of relationship that have suffered from alienation."(pg. 266). My "love work" with Christ through prayer and the Eucharist is helping me, step by step, heal into the loving mother that our Creator originally meant me to be. In the adoption situation, the parent maybe be so closed off to Christ that his saving power isn't allowed to transform a life. Yet God never leaves one of us orphaned! The saving power meant to heal a harmed child will still break through the pain, maybe through the loving hands of an adopted parent herself.

May brings lots of graduations and lots of opportunities for visits with extended family. This time, when the fur starts flying, I'm going to tuck along Pope Benedict's words into my pocket. The question isn't "why aren't we getting along?" anymore. If all relationships are damaged by sin, the simple fact that most of our beloved extended family are vocally "on the outs with Christ" explains everything. My new task from Pope Benedict is simply to "have hope." My job is to stand in love, hold Christ's hand and let his love heal my heart.

I have hope for myself. I have hope for the little boy with the hurt jaw, and hope for his frustratingly imperfect dad. I have hope for my parents, and their parents, and the great-grandparents who are probably still struggling in purgatory. "Christ is our Hope!"

May you all have a blessed day!