Sin Is Our Free Choice
My family and I attended a beautiful Extraordinary Form Mass on Ash Wednesday. The holy priest in charge of the Latin Mass Chaplaincy here in Maine (which is to say, the priest who is the Latin Mass Chaplaincy) is a wonderful homilist, and so, not surprisingly, he provided some food for fruitful thought on this occasion (I hope, by the way, he didn’t think it too odd to see me taking notes during his sermon).
Father was pointing out that Adam’s first sin isn’t only Adam’s sin: we are asking mercy “for what Adam and Eve did, and what we continue to do.” We can’t blame Adam, because, like our first ancestor, we also choose time and again to “turn our backs on God and say, ‘I don’t need you.’” Sin is something that we freely choose, and therefore Hell is also a free choice, not something imposed or inflicted upon us. He pointed out that, in the Garden of Eden, God doesn’t say “Eat this and I’ll kill you,” He says “Eat this and you will die” (Genesis 2:17).
Be Careful What You Eat
After Mass, my lovely bride told me that she had experienced the proverbial light going off in her head at that moment: she saw, on the one hand, the first Adam being told “eat this and you will die,” and on the other the Last Adam (Corinthians 15:45) saying, in effect, to his disciples, “eat this and you will live forever” (see John 6:47-56). The connection between the two passages seems fairly obvious, and I’m sure it has been noted many times, but it had never occurred to me, and neither of us could remember ever hearing or reading about it before. But there it is: Adam’s selfish choice brought death to mankind, while Christ’s self-sacrifice brings life.
That, of course, is why Lent is a hopeful season (see “Ash Wednesday, A Symbol Of Repentance, A Sign Of Hope”), but not a happy season. To return a last time to father’s Ash Wednesday homily, we are to “bring to mind, but not celebrate” the Fall. Satan tells Adam and Eve that “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5), but he is pretending to offer what they already have: God created them in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), with the word “likeness” meaning the potential to be like God. The loss of that potential was a real loss, and a real evil; it brought about true suffering for all humanity, and tremendous suffering endured by the God-Made-Man Jesus Christ was likewise all too real.
We can’t skip over the reality of that suffering in our haste to get to Easter, and we can misunderstand what is meant by the term Felix Culpa, the “Happy Fault”, which is sometimes applied to Adam’s Fall. Felix means happy in the sense of “fortunate, lucky,” but certainly not “happy” in the sense of joyful; its opposite, infelix, can mean “accursed.” Adams’ fall was fortunate in that, in the end, we were rescued from its logical consequence by God’s favor (Grace) in the form of Christ’s sacrifice for our sake on the Cross; it is fortunate in that we were saved from the curse. We need to remember and acknowledge the curse, but save the celebration for Christ's saving Love.