When Adam and Eve ate from the tree from which God had forbidden them to eat they committed the first sin. There were terrible consequences. They hid from God and from each other. And where did they hide? They hid behind a lie.
When God asked Adam if he had eaten from the fruit Adam pointed first to Eve and then to God and said: It was the woman you put with me. ‘The woman and you ... you are to blame – but not me. I am innocent, I am good, I am in the right.’
Eve did likewise. She pointed to the serpent and said: The serpent tempted me... .
The point about the pointing is that it was away from self. From now on it would always be that way – it would always be the great lie – it’s your fault.
And so we blame God, our upbringing, our spouse, our parents, our genes, the priest, the politicians, the alcohol, and the other driver while we shamelessly go on living in a permanent state of unacknowledged alienation from ourselves. We tied ourselves up with an undo-able knot. What an awful predicament!
Mankind needed a saviour and the infinite love of God, his creator sent him one.
Jesus could have come and, with a wave of his hand, restored us to our former glory, as though nothing had ever happened. He could have arranged things so that all the consequences of our sin were simply erased so that work and illness and suffering and death just disappeared.
God did not choose this path. He chose instead to send his innocent Son into the world to take upon himself the suffering and death we had caused to enter into the world and thereby to make them a means of transformation and purification and expiation for us. To put it another way, the wisdom of God allowed the scorpion of death to go on stinging us but through the death and resurrection of Christ it had been deprived of its poison. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting (1 Cor 15:55)?
In Jesus we can now see our own destiny. The crucified one hangs torn and bleeding on the cross, pinned and powerless, abandoned, lonely, agonising. And even as he dies he forgives us: Father, forgive them (Lk 23:24), and his opened heart becomes a refuge for all who would believe. He invites us, as it were, to place our wounded hearts in his wounded heart – and believe – that he will restore them in his resurrection.
When Jesus cried from the cross: "It is finished! (Jn 19:30)" he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, and the great work of our redemption was accomplished. Or was it?
Some Christians tell us that all we have to do now is believe; to receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour and we are saved. There is much truth in this but not quite enough.
Apologising in advance for my gross oversimplification I would ask you to consider the salvation won for us by Christ as a huge lake. Some would say we are saved simply by believing in the lake. Catholic Christians believe that the waters of the lake find their way into our actual personal lives primarily through the pipeline of the sacraments which Christ gave us. That’s what the sacraments are for us – seven pipelines by which the waters of life find their way into our lives.
Perhaps you will find this little anecdote helpful. It comes from Fr Charles Arminjon’s book, End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life. It was actually St Therese of Lisieux’s favourite book.
“In a picturesque town in Switzerland, surrounded by green, wooded mountains, irrigated by an abundance of clear water, the author of this conference was walking one day in the company of a Protestant minister. The latter acknowledged that he accepted the Real Presence, and could not imagine how Calvin could have denied it; but he refused to accept the truth of the Sacrifice of the Mass, on the grounds that, as the sacrifice of the Cross was, of its nature, superabundant and infinite, all other sacrifices became, by this very fact, useless and superfluous. The person to whom he addressed this opinion asked his interlocutor to consider the waterfalls that flowed down from the rocks, and the limpid streams that gushed from the hills or wound in and out through the meadow. "You see those springs," he remarked to the minister. "They, too, are perfect and plentiful. Will you, then, assert that it was useless to build aqueducts, and provide taps, in order to bring the water inside the town?" The minister, who was a man of great learning and good faith, perceived the allusion and said immediately, "I understand." The Mass is, in fact, an application, not an addition to the Sacrifice of the Cross; it is the means and the channel whereby the infinite power of the sacrifice of Calvary, accomplished once only, flows down upon the Church and the faithful.”