FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT – YEAR A 2014 St. Thomas More, Toronto
Jesus answered “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Lent is all about healing what has been called the “wound of knowledge” i.e. the Fall of Man or in J.H. Newman’s words the “aboriginal calamity” – our rebellion against God’s Word.
St. Paul describes the destiny of the human race as the tale of two “types” of human - the first man, Adam, and the new Adam, Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 45-59). Considering the Fall of Man into sin and death Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua (his defense against the charge of dishonesty) held that the existence of God had always been as certain to him as his own personal existence but: “the world seems simply to give the lie to that great truth, of which my whole being is so full.” He went on to say that it is as if: “I looked in a mirror and, and did not see my face . . . when I look into this living busy world, and see no reflection of its Creator.”
His argument goes on: “if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity.”
Just as the evidence of the Big Bang at creation is a virtual certainty to scientists today (by the way – the Big Bang Theory was formulated first by a Jesuit priest and condemned by the Soviet Union) so evidence of the “Big Crash” or the Fall of Humanity is all around for us to see – the effects are seen both in our human sin and in the beautiful but broken world.
St. Paul’s argument in the Epistle to the Romans read today is built on a series of contrasts between “one person” and “the many” or “all.” By one person’s disobedience, sin and condemnation entered the world, and death came to reign over all. By the obedience of another one, grace abounded, all were justified, and life came to restore all.
This is the drama that unfolds in today’s First Reading and in the Gospel.
Formed from the clay of the ground and filled with the breath of God’s own Spirit, Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38), created in his image (Genesis 5:1-3). He was crowned with glory and given dominion over the world and the protection of angels (Psalms 8:6-8; 91:11-13). The first Adam (Hbr. “human”) was made to worship God - to live not by bread alone but in obedience to every word that comes from the mouth of the Father. Here is the rub.
Adam put the Lord his God to the test. He gave in to the serpent’s temptation, trying to seize for himself all that God had already promised him. In contrast, in his hour of temptation, Jesus prevailed where Adam failed in accepting the will of God as best for the world.
For Catholics it is essential that we accept the Word of God as interpreted by the Magisterium, teaching office of the Church, the infallible authority i.e. that which is taught in faith and morals is to be accepted by every Catholic Christian. No matter how hard this may be and however our human reason may strain against it, we are committed.
Newman explained the nature of infallibility (a word which, in English at least, has unfortunate implications). Infallible teaching simply means that the Church will not fall because of the teaching of the Church, we have God’s assurance that “the gates of Hell” will not prevail against the Church and her teaching. It does not mean that any human being including those who exercise the Magisterium of the Church are without sin. Pope Francis has made this very clear while upholding Church teaching on faith and morals.
Newman agrees as do Catholic teachers generally that “truth is the real object of our reason” and so there is no conflict between faith and reason or faith and science – a trumped up conflict imagined by some in the 19th century and promoted today by Dawkins and the “New Atheists”. Right reason, Newman insists, when “correctly exercised” arrives at religious truth as well as scientific facts.
Unfortunately, he says: “reason as it acts in fact and concretely in fallen man” has “ a tendency towards simple unbelief.” This is due to what he calls “ the all-corroding, all-dissolving skepticism of the intellect” which leads to “ the anarchical condition of things.”
In a strange way this very anarchy and fallen-ness is a witness to the truth of God. We know something is very wrong and only the Creator can fix it. What is needed as Newman puts it is “a supereminent prodigious power sent upon earth to encounter and master a giant evil.”
This, of course, is the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, made manifest to the world since his resurrection in his body – the Catholic Church – through her sacraments and indefectible teaching, inn her magisterial interpretation of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the two lungs of the Body of Christ. Because man cannot, in the words of the Gospel, “live by bread alone” the teaching, liturgy and practice of the Church express the life of the Sacred Heart of Christ and of his life-giving body and blood which nourish us when we are penitent and allow our own human reason to find its object in the truth of God.
Still we find that we sin after the pattern of Adam’s transgression. Like Adam, we let sin in the door (Genesis 4:7) when we entertain doubts about God’s promises and/or the Magisterial teaching on faith and morals, or when we forget to call upon our Lord in our hours of temptation. The Fall has its implications for all of us and so in Lent we turn in a special way to God’s mercy and attempt to conform our wills more closely to God’s will and reason for us and for the world.
The grace won for us by Jesus’ obedience means that sin is no longer our master as much as it is rampant in the world. As we begin this season of repentance, we are sure of God’s compassion, that God can and will create a new heart within us (Romans 5:5; Hebrews 8:10).
Fr. John Hodgins