We are all in a predicament that we cannot fix, escape from or overcome on our own – the three-fold problem of evil, suffering and death.
When you think about it, all of the difficult challenges of being human fall into one of these three categories. No matter how good, happy, wealthy and healthy we may be, we face the disturbing reality that we will eventually lose our lives as we know them.
Reversals of fortune, illness, suffering inflicted by others, separation and death await all of us. Pondering the disturbing truth that we cannot ultimately control or stop any of these bad things from happening, our own human experience teaches us that we need a savior, some Other who has the will and the power to rescue us.
The section of the Catholic Catechism on Jesus Christ begins with paragraph 422, “‘But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.’
“This is ‘the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ God has visited his people. He has fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants. He acted far beyond all expectation – he has sent his own ‘beloved Son.’”
In Jesus, we see the desire and the ability to save us made visible and present in the life of the world. Christ is the only person in the history of the world until the end of time who wants to rescue us from the dark power of sin and death and can do so! In Advent, we prepare once more for the celebration of Christmas, the in-breaking of the Savior into the history of the world and the particulars of our own individual lives.
Perhaps the greatest resistance to faith is a complacent self-sufficiency, the sense that I have the world by the tail, life is pretty good, I haven’t done anything really bad and what do I need to be saved from anyway?
Our spectacular advances in life expectancy, health care, material prosperity and technological control can leave us with the false sense that we do not really need God anymore, that humanity is the master of its own destiny and has seized for itself the power of the universe. In such a view, religion is some stale leftover from a former age.
And yet … even with our amazing advances on so many human fronts, life seems more precarious and anxious, and sadder than ever. Poverty, violence, religious persecution, unemployment, sexual immorality and division are on the increase. The answers that secularity, materialism, relativism or agnosticism offer do not satisfy our hearts when we are faced with suffering, evil and death.
In this Year of Faith, the Lord and his church are calling us to go back to the basics of our Catholic belief, rooted in the conviction that we cannot save ourselves from disaster. So in his tender and divine mercy, the Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed us, given us a new identity as adopted children of the Father, forgiven our sins and opened up our hearts so that the Blessed Trinity can dwell within us.
In the Gospels, the only people with whom Jesus seems to get angry and impatient are the self-righteous, those locked in their own smug sufficiency who refuse to recognize their own poverty, sinfulness and inadequacy. Their spiritual resistance prevents Jesus from impacting their lives with his love, grace and healing. They simply do not need him.
Consequently, how freeing for us to acknowledge our sin, neediness, fear and general messed-up state of being! We do so, not to chastise ourselves with guilt but rather to open the door to the saving work of Christ. In such a context, the sacraments, especially baptism, Eucharist and reconciliation, are seen as the lifelines that they are, rich and full experiences of salvation in the here and now.
Are we sinners? Do we need a Savior? Is Jesus waiting for us to open the door of our hearts to his mercy? Is life empty and disastrous without God? Can we look at all of the darkness in the world and still dare to hope? Our Catholic faith tells us: You bet!