Original sin affects everything we do as a human. Baptism takes away Original Sin, the Sin of the World, but we still must live out the consequences of living in a condition where everything has a beginning and an end. I reflected on this corruption of our nature in terms of the six questions each person must ask and answer to move on to the next level of our collective journey, to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father. My Lectio during the last three sessions has been about sin, specifically being a penitential person during Lent. My problem has been, I don’t go around sinning every day, yet every day, I need God’s mercy for my inability to love with all my strength (Matthew 22:36). This is a blog about the need to take up the cross each day and follow Christ, to seek God’s mercy on me a sinful person in reparation for past sins, to gain grace to continue the journey. The conversion of life (conversio morae) is at the core of one who lives a penitential existence with Christ as the center.
Easter is a time of great rejoicing. For those gathered together in the peace of Christ, it is a time to celebrate the victory of Christ over death and the default of Original Sin. Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit is a sacramental sign that death has no more power over us. Easter must take place in each of our hearts as well as in the context of the Church on the feast of the resurrection. My Lectio Divina meditations of late have taken on a dark tone, much like dark love. Dark love means there is a price to pay for love, sometimes painful, often with outrageous sacrifices of patience and forgiveness. Dark love is the passion and death before a resurrection takes place, the price that Christ paid for restoring resonance to a dissonant reality, the opening of adoption as brothers and sisters to Christ, the Son of God, Savior.
As I reflect on my Lectio today (Philippians 2:5), as I do each day, what comes to mind is a macro approach to one of the core questions humans must answer: What is the purpose of life? This is not as easy as it sounds, because, each individual has to answer at least six questions to find out the answer to that question of purpose. Humans find themselves alone in the arc of existing species, alone able to reason and ask and answer why something is, alone in being able to choose that which is against their nature, to choose that which is opposite of what their human reasoning tells them makes sense. Such is the story of salvation. The liturgical season is the complete life of Christ, like the mysteries of the Rosary, like the stations of the Cross, like the Liturgy of the Hours, like the Eucharist and sacrament of reconciliation. The collective gathering of believers comes together to join you and me with the context of the Christ Principle so that we might grow more towards Christ and less towards our mere human selves. What does not make sense in the world (one which is governed only by the physical and mental universe of each individual) makes perfect sense with the Christ Principle, the sign of contradiction, moving beyond reason alone, the default of original sin, to explain that the purpose of all creation is love.
Lent is a time of purification, one that allows us to burn away those encroaching default tendencies of original sin (not the same as temptations to be god from Satan) but the effects that we all inherit as part of being human. The genius of Genesis is to show how God lifts up humanity to have hope after the fall from grace. The effects of original sin are still with us today, making us vulnerable to false prophets, false teachers, ways of thinking that put the individual at the center of all reality. Ironically, the individual is the center of all reality, at least for seventy or eighty years while we live. What our option is, due to the saving redemption of Christ, is for us to have the opportunity to proclaim the purpose of life? What we place at our center is our god. It may be the true self or the false self. Whatever we place at our center, we must work constantly and consistently to keep ourselves from resisting the effects of original sin which pulls us back into a world view without God. That is why we have to take up our crosses daily, pray our Cistercian practices faithfully in season and out of season. We are literally placing our fingers in the dike to keep out the water each day we live. That is why we must call upon the Lord to be with us as we struggle with the effects of original sin. On top of that, Satan tempts us, using our vulnerability of human nature to his advantage. Here are some of the temptations we all face from Satan as we continue to run the race.
Enter the one variable that does not mutate, original sin. It is the condition of being human and what that means physically, mentally, but also spiritually. Original sin is invisible. The problem with invisibility is you can’t see it. Original sin is like oxygen and you are a piece of iron. You think you are strong and will last forever, but oxygen, relentlessly and without seeming to do anything but be itself. Without maintenance, iron will rust and eventually break down. Christ provides the tools we need to keep original sin at bay. (Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict) We must still do the work to keep ourselves clean, but we can survive. There is no conveyor belt on which we jump on when we are born and jump off when we die. The effects of original sin are with us, even if Baptism redeems our nature by God lifting us up to be sons and daughters of the Father. In this context, there are six temptations of the effects of Original Sin that impact the six choices we must make to sustain ourselves as we live out whatever our life has in store for us.
I. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — What is the purpose of life?
Each one of these questions, plus obtaining the correct answers, builds on the one preceding it. Here is what we have so far.
We all experience this because we are human. Baptism takes away Original Sin and opens us up to the opportunity to combat the effects of being human. Jesus became one of us to open us up to being adopted sons and daughters of the Father. There is a catch. We have to live as a pilgrim in a foreign land until we die. This first temptation is about what to place as the purpose of life itself. All our choices have consequences and this selection is no different. What you place here affects the remaining five choices because they build on one another. Not all choices that use “god” words are transformative.
We can either choose what God tells us is the purpose of life, or we can make up one that suits our convenience. If we use the world as the norm, then everyone that has the right to an opinion is correct and there is no truth, only what the individual thinks is true. To choose God means I accept that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here is the secret to choosing a purpose in life. This choice is a paradox like so many choices in the spiritual universe. It is a great priority.
When I abandon myself to the will of God as an adopted son or daughter of the Father, like Mary, I make a free choice that God is number one and all else makes sense in terms of that one principle. This is the purpose in which God chooses me to be an adopted son (or daughter) of the Father.
12This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.i13* No one has greater love than this,j to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends,* because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.k16 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.l17 This I command you: love one another.mhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/15
II. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — What is the purpose of your life?
Each one of these questions, plus obtaining the correct answers, builds on the one preceding it. Here is what we have so far.
Again, the default for human existence is to replace God with you as the center of your world. If the first temptation was to replace you as the god of the whole of reality, this second temptation is to make yourself god over what you control, your world.
This is the two-world choice (hypothesis, if you prefer) of which St. Paul stresses. The choice here is that you must make a choice to fit into God’s playground and His rules or to create your own playground with your rules that apply to you and everything else in reality. It is about you controlling who plays in your playground. Original sin is the condition where we are lead to follow the path of least resistance, that of the individual as the center of morality.
The True Wisdom.*6Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.7Rather, we speak God’s wisdom,* mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,8and which none of the rulers of this age* knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.9But as it is written:
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.11Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.12We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.13And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.*14 Now the natural person* does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.15 The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment* by anyone. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord, to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.g.”https://bible.usccb.org/bible/1corinthians/2
III. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — What does reality look like?
Each one of these questions, plus obtaining the correct answers, builds on the one preceding it. Here is what we have so far.
This is the third temptation of Original Sin, one that Satan exploits because of the corruption of our nature and the effects of being human. The first one is to choose either God or you as the center of all reality. The second temptation is to the kingdom of heaven first and all else will be lived in terms of that choice of God’s will. This third temptation is to choose a reality that either has physical and mental universes or three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual). Once more, Original Sin is the default with its effects ever-present to seduce us into thinking that words are similar in not only sound but in meaning. This is the temptation to see reality as only having two universes (physical and mental). The other choice for us is difficult, one which doesn’t make sense entirely with human reasoning. It is to see reality with three distinct universes, (physical, mental as well as spiritual). This third universe is only entered by invitation (this invitation was extended to all humans with the resurrection of Christ from the dead). There is a caveat beyond having to choose this universe to enter it (Baptism), which is, like the Tower of Babel story about the confusion of tongues, this universe is turned on its head, a sign of contradiction just like Christ. What is up in the world (physical and mental universes) is answered in this macro equation by the opposite of what the world thinks. The spiritual universe answers the question of what reality looks like, but with a caveat. What is real is this kingdom of heaven is the opposite in the sense of being opposed to what the world says is important.
Reflect on this paradox during this time of penance and humility. Humility and obedience to God’s will by loving others a Christ loved us, is the healing and nourishing place of silence and solitude that is our retreat during times of doubt and frustration at what some of the people in the Church are doing in the name of Christ. Christ provides us with the answer to this question also. Are you beginning to see a pattern? The resurrection opened up the gates of heaven to those who follow Christ in humility and truth. Because Christ set the example and walked the way of the cross, suffering pain and giving up his life on the cross for the ransom of many, we walk that same path in our unique way, sometimes veering off the road, often stopping because the load is too heavy. Christ won’t walk our path for us but will join with us as we seek God daily in whatever comes our way.
The Rule of Opposites is at work in one reality that has three separate and distinct universes. https://amzn.to/2ORGlWa Let me explain. To get to this third universe, Jesus had to become one of us to show us that the kingdom of heaven is the answer to the question of what reality looks like. The Kingdom of Heaven begins immediately for the individual upon reception of Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit. It continues to fulfillment after we die in the hope of the resurrection with Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven on earth began with Jesus fulfilling the Messiah’s prophecies, dying on the cross and rising with all humanity so that they can enjoy Heaven forever as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. The true fulfillment of what it means to be human is the next step in our evolution from the animal through human to adoption as God’s friend. All the same, humans are and can never be God. Only Christ and the Blessed Mother, who is not God but was lifted up to her intended potential as an adopted daughter of the Father while she was still on earth, are exceptions to this rule. The rest of us must live our seventy to eighty years on earth searching for purpose, seeking our personal center, living as though there are three universes and not just two, to fulfill our destiny.
As Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit paleontologist, and futurist describes in his book The Phenomenon of Man, our destiny is to see reality as moving from a beginning to an end with Christ as the Omega, as well as the Alpha. https://amzn.to/30MmRow Too outlandish? Of course, because in this temptation, the default of original sin is to think of reality as having only two universes (physical and mental). The three universes concept does not make sense to the world and is a stumbling block for science and non-believes because it does not make sense without the Christ Principle. Scripture, says St. John 20:39-31, are the stories about Christ to allow us to come to believe that He is the Son of God and the Messiah and that believing we might have eternal life in His name. It is the choices we make that define who we are, not our abilities. The problem for humans is we don’t just make one choice and then forget about it until we get to heaven. We must struggle each day with those consequences of Original sin, the pain, the fact that we only live for seventy or eighty years, if we are strong. This question is answered by Christ, which I have termed The Christ Principle.
If you look up into the sky, you will see millions and millions of Suns (and that is just the ones whose light has reached us). Each of these Suns has planets or rocky balls of gas around them. Science has provided the human mind with a grand scale of things in terms of distance and quality. What is out there is simply beyond anything our minds can comprehend, yet it does exist. If you think of each of those stars in the sky as separate universes, each having millions and millions of Suns, each with trillions of planets out there, the scale dwarfs our ability to even conceive is existence. Now, with everything that is, The Christ Principle is and has always been true not just for earth but for all those universes of universes. The Christ Principle is so that we humans might evolve to the next stage of our development, that of Spiritual Apes. Our destiny as humans is not for this earth at all, it is to be lifted up to the next level of existence, one that we could not attain without God reaching down to us (a human term) to enable us to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
All matter, all time, all energy, everything that we know or experience has a beginning and an end. We are called by God’s DNA contained in all reality to move to a higher level of awareness, one that does not make complete sense to our human reasoning but more so for the human heart. How do you know that this is the way reality is? How do you know it isn’t?
CONTEMPLATIVE READING RESOURCES TO HELP YOU MOVE FROM YOUR FALSE SELF TO YOUR TRUE SELF
The Six Thresholds of Life. https://amzn.to/3cDbdlk
SPIRITUAL APES: Our Journey to Forever, Volume 1 https://amzn.to/3eEfbgb
SPIRITUAL APES: Our Journey from Animality to Spirituality, Volume 2 https://amzn.to/3tnpCsJ
SPIRITUAL APES: Our Struggle to be Spiritual, Volume 3 https://amzn.to/3vuQicP
IV. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — How does it all fit together?
The problem with human reasoning alone is that by asking the wrong question, we get wrong answers. In each of the questions above, presuming they are the correct questions to ask about being human, wrong answers will not allow us to proceed to the next question. For example, if I choose fame, fortune, and adulation as the purpose of all life, that won’t get me to the next questions. Why? The answers to all of these questions come from God, not from human reasoning. The answers to all these questions are paradoxes and also signs of contradiction. The way to open up the human mind and heart to reveal the treasures God has for us is by humility and obedience to God’s will. We say, “For thine is the power, and the glory, forever and forever.” It is only when we realize that abandoning everyTHING that the world holds of value that we gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven where we gain the treasures awaiting us as adopted sons and daughter of Our Father Who Art in Heaven.
How everything fits together is itself a paradox. The answer is, it doesn’t, and yet it does. Each of the three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual) are separate yet one, just as the Trinity is one nature but three distinct persons. Like the popular notion of “A Theory of Everything” proposed by science, the only way there is one universe is to allow each universe to be what it is. Religion is not Science; Science is not Spirituality. Each exists independently of each other and so do not compete. Rather than smoosh everything together into one universe, each one is unique and has it own purpose as well as measuring stick. The three are one.
The physical universe is what is, the mental universe, allows humans to know the physical universe plus the mental universe and asking the questions:
The spiritual universe is the Christ Principle giving us the answer to these six core questions of life. It is not that the World does not give answers to these six questions, it does. They provides answers that lead to a meaningful life while you live on earth. The spiritual universe, The Christ Principle, answers these questions that lead to a fulfillment of what it means to be human while you live on earth, and provides you with the energy you need to move to the next level of human evolution, an adopted son or daughter of the Father capable to living in a dimension beyond time, matter, physical energy, gravity, and the properties of matter. Because we humans are incapable of knowing, much less existing in such a condition beyond our experience, we call that Faith. It is because of the Christ Principle (Philippians 2:-15) who gave us a way to behave that we lead us to what is in store for us, that we call Hope. Again, because of Original Sin, we are not evil at our core nature, but merely prone to a choice of self or God with many things that come our way. In this season of Lent followed by Easter, we reflects again and again on the six questions of life all humans must ask and answer correctly to get to Heaven.
V. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD — How do you love fiercely?
Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, is one of my favorite authors. In part, because he taught me that love is not something humans know how to do automatically or from their nature. It is an art, he says, that must be learned. He goes on to describe what authentic and inauthentic love is. After re-reading his book, I kept asking myself the question “Is Contemplative Practice an art also?” It occurred to me the reason we must work to be spiritual (Remember Genesis and the effect of the fall in Chapters 2-3?) was due to the effects of Original Sin. We bear the indelible sign of the cross on our souls for a reason. Like the tattoos of Auschwitz concentration camps, we carry that sign as a remembrance that we must work to keep Satan from gaining sway over our choices of good or evil.
Like an ice cube out of the refrigerator, our spirituality is subject to the room temperature of Original Sin. We live in the world so we don’t notice it because being in the physical and mental universe keeps us alive, but it also means we must work to continuously move from our false self to our true self, or risk atrophying Faith.
Only the spiritual universe, which is life in Christ answers these six questions with the correct answers that lead to the fulfillment of our human nature. The questions are asked by our human reasoning but the answers come from the divine equation, not from this reality. The answers are otherworldly, not just out of the universe, but from the Kingdom of Heaven, which is beyond space, time, matter, energy, science, philosophy.
This is where the contemplative practice is so helpful. It is a constant and daily practice of practices (Eucharist as food for the spirit, reading Scripture as transforming, making all things new through penance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, moving from self to God through Liturgy of the Hours and Lectio Divina, reading St. Benedict’s Rule, especially Chapter 40. These practices are not ends in themselves but serve to put us in contact with Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. With St. Paul, we can say:
When humans put God number one, there is no number two. Everything, in reality, is in resonance and not in dissonance as it was with the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus, our Christ saved us by giving his life as a ransom for many to the Father. Resonance is once more restored, with an important caveat. All we need to do is to love one another as Christ loved us.
VI. THE TEMPTATION TO BE GOD: You know you are going to die, now what?
This question has to do with putting together the previous questions correctly and accumulating the answers that lead to this sixth and last question each human must ask and answer before they die. Let’s review.
One of the reasons God had to become human nature was to give us the answers to these six questions of life. the ones that enable us to fulfill our purpose as human beings. Having reason and the ability to choose, Original Sin is the archetypal story of how humans have not made good choices when left to their own devices. All choices have consequences, and in the case of our prototype parents, Adam and Eve, the consequence of sin is death, not just for them but for all humans. Genesis is a powerful and descriptive tale of human weakness and the consequences of that action of wanting to be god. It is as real today as it was then. The Christ Principle is one that provides authentic answers to the critical questions of life. These answers are not from what the world thinks is a purpose but what God tells us, and through Christ, shows us the way, the truth, and to live that life. For someone who does not recognize nor even know what they don’t know, it is a place where all of us are afraid to look, the interior realm of the kingdom of heaven. Because we have been saved, God has given us adoption and thus the ability to expand our capacity to know, love, and serve God and others in this life, so we can be happy in the next. (Baltimore Catechism, Questions 6). Consistent with the effects of original sin (we have to work for a living, we suffer pain and death), we must constantly challenge the forces of decay and time and replace our false selves with all things new.
The effects of Original Sin challenge the kingdom of heaven but don’t conquer it unless you do not recognize the Christ Principle. This is the struggle we all face when trying to replace or refurbish our Faith with the energy of God. As humans, we have all been conceived in this condition of decay and rust. It is automatic, to the point of being a default. It is like the grass in your front yard. If you don’t mow it, it will get out of hand and become a mess. It takes work to be spiritual. That is what it means to take up your cross daily and follow Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. What was his way? The road to Calvary, fraught with temptations to stop his mission to be a ransom for many. We put on Christ, each day when we do Cistercian practices to enable us to have in us the mind of that same Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5). Day in and day out, the effects of Original Sin silently mitigate our intentions to love others as Christ loved us. To be a Christian, in this deepest, contemplative sense, is to be in constant vigil mode to be watchmen or watchwomen against human nature itself. This is the struggle of taking up the cross each day and following Christ. We trod our own path each day but, now, because Christ loved us first, we have the doors of heaven open to those who recognize that their destiny is tied up the Christ Principle.
Satan uses our human nature and our human weaknesses to interject temptations (choices that are not God’s) into daily living. This battle is why contemplative practice must be more than just reciting prayers, even seven times a day as in the case of Liturgy of the Hours. The pull of original sin is inexorably strong, like a starfish surrounding its prey, gradually increasing pressure, if not saved. Salvation is not just a one time event that happened during the time of Christ. Christ left imperfect and sinful members to carry on the struggle to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) in each age. In fact, for each one of us, we constantly fight the good fight against the forces of Satan and the consequences of Original Sin. Those who persevere are saved each and every time they choose Christ over their false selves. Cistercian prayer must fit into a way of living that is creating opportunities for you (and in the case of others, a community) to be present to Christ in order to listen with the ear of the heart to the Holy Spirit. (Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict)
Catholicism is more than just a catechism and pronouncements from various councils, it is recognizing and sustaining Christ in each and every day as your center, number one in your life. It is a way of living out humanity with faith, hope, and love, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians. And the greatest of these is love. Love, not as the world gives, peace not as the world says it is, but our hearts touching the heart of Christ, which is at the right hand of the Father.
Humility and obedience are not just words that the world uses to separate individuals from God. Jesus came to show us that is by renouncing our personal will and replacing it with whatever God says is good, obedience is not lording it over one gender or another, one race or another, one nationality or another, one political party or another. Love unites us all in, with and through our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. In his name, we have eternal life, if we but obey God and not the world. John 20:30-31.
Like Jesus, it is only when we empty ourselves of all those vices of our false self that we can approach the Father, through Christ, and ask for mercy for forgiveness for our sinful tendencies. Not that we are sin-centered or always go about committing moral sin, the challenge for a contemplative approach to spirituality is to recognize that I am a penitential person each day until I die. I bear the mark of the cross on my soul, the sign of contradiction, I must work to fend off the subtle seduction of Satan to be god by choosing my will over God’s.
From right now until I die, I make a profession or promise as a Lay Cistercian to always have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) throughout the day. My prayer time is not an hour or set period, although I do pray during set times. Rather, it is my awareness that I am in a process of becoming more like Christ and less like me each day. Some days are better than others. Some days I have setbacks and must re-gain control over my life and make all things new through Christ. It is my journey and just because my road is rocky doesn’t mean I am on the wrong road. No road is wrong with Christ walking beside you, like he did with the disciples at Emmaus, teaching them about how he fulfilled the prophets and prophecies of Israel.
When I am present to Christ, he teaches me through Scripture, Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Eucharist Adoration, through the work I do in writing this blog and my books on contemplative practice, in sharing my ideas with others and identifying the Holy Spirit in what they say back to me.
LOVING OTHERS IS A CONSTANT PROCESS USING THE TOOLS CHRIST HAS GIVEN ME
If you have read this blog up to this point, then you know that I am using the six questions of life to answer what Christ has taught us about temptation and original sin.
I don’t have sinning at the top of my “to do” list. Why must I remain vigilant in prayer and fasting not to fall into temptation? My answer is the sinful condition which is the world and its empty promises and allurements to be god. I must keep myself in good spiritual condition to confront the every day effects of Original Sin. Like someone who goes to the gym, I must exercise my spiritual life or lose it. Christ will never abandon me, as he will always keep the covenant of New and Old Testaments, but I am the one who fails. I need the constant energy of God in me to survive to the end of the race. That doesn’t happen without work.
I don’t speak for anyone but myself. My time left will be spent packing for the trip to forever. I realize that heaven begins for me right now if I am aware of it. Sitting on a park bench in the middle of winter waiting for Christ is all I try to do in my Lectio Divina. I am so energized and excited about what my two advocates (Christ and the Holy Spirit) are telling me, that I can’t write it down fast enough.
Here is my “to do” list of what I hope to continue now (or later on in heaven).
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