Friday, December 9, 2011

Days of Future Past

Christians believe that they have been set free from sin and its deadly effects, redeemed and reconciled by the saving action of God in Jesus Christ. In all seasons, but in a special way during the season of Advent, they wait in joyful hope for the ultimate fulfillment of God's redemptive plan within history.

The reign of God is already here, but it is not yet here fully. This, of course, is obvious to anyone who reads the news on any given day. From Incarnation to Resurrection, the Christ-event happened 2,000 years ago. However, by all appearances, we are still stuck in sin: led into temptation, delivered to evil, drowned in a vortex of violence.

Call it rebellion against God. Call it putting ourselves in the place of God. Call it turning away from others. Call it the turn to violence. The Catholic Church calls it original sin, and the human race remains in a weakened state because of it. The question is, persistence of original sin to the contrary, are there evidences of the final victory of God (in Christ) in history? Traces of the future in days past?

The Church answers Yes, both before and after the coming of Christ. The Church commemorated one of those moments yesterday. Every year on Dec. 8, the Church celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is an article of faith in the Church that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was conceived in such a way as to be preserved in her very soul from original sin by divine grace.

One of my bright Capuchin brothers writes on his blog that the Resurrection, the End of creation made flesh, has already irrupted into history from eternity and effected God's saving power. For instance, he says, we can perceive the Resurrection effect in the miraculous birth of Isaac, by faith, to aged Abraham and Sarah. Another example is in the call of Mary to bring the Son of God into the world -- her election, her preservation by prevenient grace for her mission, and her unconditional affirmation in faith. The belief that Mary was protected from the corruption of sin from the beginning of her life is telling of 1) the conviction that the forces of the new creation, released by the Resurrection, were operative within her person; and 2) the hope that one day all people will be shielded from sin.

We are by now accustomed to the idea that the past governs the present and to an extent determines the future. I am captivated by the idea that the future can shift the present and interpret the past. Those who theologize about trauma dwell on the ways that events from the past continue to wound creation. We are still being irradiated by the fallout from the Fall. We are shell-shocked by original sin. We are victim-survivors of the Past. We suffer flashbacks, constantly. We cannot look or move forward. At best, we can put the past behind us and learn to live in the ambiguous present. But the theologians of trauma have yet to examine the Resurrection, its place in the economy of salvation, and its historical impact. If they did, they would give it its due as the event from the future, renewing and transforming creation. We are now, and already have been, irradiated by the effects of the Resurrection. We are subsisting now on the Future. The prophets and saints among us "flash forward," constantly. And we see, in Abraham and Sarah, in Mary, and in other mysterious moments now long in age, contours of the new and the everlasting.

Since World War II, the Holocaust, and the atomic bomb, modern and postmodern theologians have been investigating original sin with fresh intention. Like detectives on crime's trail, they have been examining its clues and interrogating its witnesses. In truth, they are reconstructing the Fall, and they are coming around to its phenomenality. It is time they did so with the Resurrection.

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