I'd like to begin by asking: How many of you saw the movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? ... I think some of you are reluctant to come to confession to me because you are afraid I will make the movie part of your penance! I won't do that, but it is a darn good movie - and it gives many images which can help us reflect on our Christian faith. I would like to mention one detail because it will help us appreciate our Scripture readings.
If you saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you know that it is about some children from our world who enter a parallel world called Narnia. The creatures of Narnia don’t quite know what to make of the children so they try to find out what they are. The child who first enters that parallel world is a little girl named Lucy. A faun asks her, “Are you a daughter of Eve?” It takes her a while to understand the question, but eventually she recognizes that she is. Later, a Narnian refers to the boys as “sons of Adam.”
You and I, likewise, are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. To understand today's readings (not to mention Christmas itself), we must go back to our first parents or, as the Bible calls them, Adam (“the man”) and Eve (“mother of the living”). From them we have inherited some good things and some bad things. The most important benefit we have received from them is what the book of Genesis calls the image of God. It makes us different from all the other animals. The other animals are superior to us in many ways: greater strength, speed, ability to endure extremes of temperature and so on. Nevertheless, we have within us a divine image which gives us certain unique capabilities. Take a simple example: It is common for a child to draw a picture of a monkey, but it sounds humorous to say a monkey drew a picture of child. “Art,” as Chesterton observed, “is the signature of man.” The difference between us and other animals goes deep. A group of scientists taught a monkey how to use sign language, but they were disappointed that the only thing he wanted to say was, “More bananas, please.” On the other hand, we have desires which seem limitless. Nothing on earth can fully satisfy us, because we are created for something beyond this world. We have within us the image of God.
Along with that divine image, also have come some very bad things. We humans have a tendency to greed, deception, vengeance and passing the blame. Human history, in spite of great achievements, shows things which can only give us shame: wars, slavery, torture, rape and untold cruelty of some humans toward others. Each of us experience an inner division. As St. Paul said, “I know what is right and good, but I do just the opposite. What a miserable man am I!” The Vatican Council stated “man is split within himself...man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully.” That inner division is sometimes referred to as original sin, a terrible debility we inherited from our first parents.*
Once I was talking with a guy who was complaining about how unfair this is: We didn’t commit the original sin. Why should we be punished? I don’t know the full answer to that question, but I would make two comments. First, complaining does no good. We all inherit good things and bad from our parents. A priest friend of mine was diagnosed with diabetes. It was no surprise since the disease runs in his family. It seems unfair that he has to avoid certain foods that others can enjoy with no problem. But instead of complaining, he accepts his diet like a man (although he sometimes gives in to the temptation of hash browns and fried eggs). He recognizes that he needs outside help in the form of medicine and that he has to follow a regimen of daily exercise. In a word, he knows he has a diabetic condition and he is determined to make the best of it. In a similar way, you and I have inherited the “human condition” and it includes original sin. We have to make the best of it. We are children of Adam and Eve.
Nevertheless, there is something more positive to say than simply “grin and bear it.” We get a hint of it on this final Sunday before Christmas. We are not only children of Eve; we are children of a New Eve. Long ago, the first Eve tried to exalt herself. Today, a second Eve says that what she wants is to be a handmaid, a serving girl of the Lord. She desired to empty herself so that she could be filled with God. In the case of Mary, it happened in the most literal way. The Second Adam, the one who would undo the sin of the first Adam, took flesh from her. Jesus had (and still has) Mary’s DNA.
Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The virginal conception of Jesus signals a new way of generation, that is, a new way of handing on life. As St. John says, it happens “not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.” (1:13) The desire for a new life can sometimes be overwhelming. People sometimes say to me, “Father, I wish I could fly away somewhere and start all over.” The meaning of Christmas is that you can. We obviously cannot change the past, but we can have a new beginning.
You will be hearing on the news that you have only so many shopping days left till Christmas. What they don’t tell you is that also have only so many praying days left. This Christmas you and I want a rebirth. In Jesus we become more than children of Adam and Eve. We become children of the New Eve – and the New Adam, Jesus himself. We have only a short time until the celebration of his birth. May it also point to our own rebirth.
*A fourteen-year-old girl made a poignant statement about our dilemma:
As you can easily imagine we often ask ourselves here despairingly, “What, oh, what is the use of the war? Why can’t people live peacefully together? Why all this destruction?”Earlier Version
The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far. Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction? Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical service, artists, or for poor people?
Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world? Oh, why are people so crazy?
I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war. Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wares will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again. (The Diary of Young Girl, Anne Frank)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Narnia vs. Golden Globe Awards)
Execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams - Bishops' Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger
Proceed at your own risk: "Sooner or later a man deliberately sets himself to do the most disgusting thing he can think of." (Chesterton, Everlasting Man)
Preaching Schedule (through May 2006)