Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Easiest Church Doctrine to Prove

(Twelfth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on June 22, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Romans 5: 12-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twelfth Sunday 2008]

“Prove to me that one teaching of the Catholic Church is true. I don’t care which teaching—which doctrine—it is; just pick one, and then prove it to me.”

If someone said that to you, which teaching of the Church would you choose? Obviously, you would try to pick the one that was the easiest to verify (at least, that’s the one I’d pick!).

So which one would it be?

  • The existence of the Trinity; the fact that there are 3 divine Persons in one God?
  • The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist?
  • The fact that Jesus is God?
  • The existence of heaven, hell and purgatory?
  • The Resurrection?

There are many possible choices you could make—you can find them listed in the index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But to me there’s only one that qualifies as the easiest to prove, simply because there’s a superabundance of empirical evidence for it:

Original sin!

Original sin, of course, is not like the personal sins we commit every day. Personal sins are either mortal or venial; they are either sins of commission (when we do something evil that we shouldn’t do) or omission (when we fail to do something good that we ought to do).

Original sin is different—qualitatively different. Original sin is a lack of something—specifically, sanctifying grace. Because of Adam and Eve’s personal sin, we come into this world without sanctifying grace in our souls. As St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading from Romans 5: “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death.”

Sanctifying grace is the grace that makes us pleasing to God; it’s the grace we need in our souls in order to get into heaven; it’s the grace that brings life—eternal life.

Sanctifying grace: Don’t leave earth without it!

This is the grace that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, died on the cross and rose from the dead to give us. As Paul says here, “The gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died [that is to say, lost sanctifying grace], how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”

This gift of sanctifying grace “overflows” into all of us at Baptism. The problem is the residual effects of original sin remain within us even after we’re baptized! And for this, there’s an almost infinite amount of empirical, visible evidence!

Take the daily newspaper, for example! They say that most of the news is bad news—and unfortunately they’re right! And that bad news is almost always caused by human beings doing bad things! To me, that’s evidence of original sin.

Look too at the history of the world. In every culture, in every time period, within every group of people on the planet you find acts of violence and hatred and immorality. It’s a universal phenomenon! That’s more evidence of original sin: evidence that evil isn’t something caused by the climate, or by where you live, or by how advanced or primitive your civilization is. The existence of evil in every time and in every place is a very strong indication that all human beings are wounded in their souls and in their spirits—which is precisely what the Church teaches in this doctrine.

And finally, look into your own heart. What’s your biggest weakness? Do you lack patience? Are you prone to gossip? Do you find it difficult to be pure or honest at times? Do you struggle with selfishness and materialism?

All of that is evidence of the fact that you, personally, are affected by original sin—specifically by “concupiscence,” which is the inclination to sin that remains in us even after we receive sanctifying grace in Baptism.

Many years ago the editors of a newspaper in London, England asked some famous writers to submit articles for a series. Each of the authors was asked to answer the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”

G.K. Chesterton’s article consisted of two words: “I am.” Some people were shocked that this incredibly brilliant author would write something so brief.

But it was actually very profound! Chesterton was a man who knew himself; he knew and understood how he personally had been affected by original sin.

So if someone ever challenges you to prove a doctrine of the Church, definitely pick this one, because there’s evidence for it all around us, as well as within us.

And there’s an added benefit here. Focusing on the reality of original sin when you’re conversing with non-believers can actually be a way of evangelizing them. You see, if you can get people to understand and acknowledge their weakness and their inner woundedness, they will begin to recognize the fact that they need a Savior!

And once they recognize that need, you can tell them about Jesus—and Baptism—and sanctifying grace—and eternal life.

And chances are they’ll listen to what you have to say.