Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned… Romans 5:12?
I remember when our second grade teacher, Sister Mary Bede, told us the story of Adam and Eve and how all of us were born with sin because our parents ate the apple, there was a great hue and cry and a lot of little hands in the air. The general consensus was that this was very unfair because we weren’t there and we didn’t personally filch the fruit. Why should we be punished for something they did?
As I have gotten older that question still nags me. What was there about Adam’s disobedience that haunts me and all of us today? In what sense do you and I share in the guilt of the father and mother of the human race? In his wonderful reflection on the life of Jesus, Father Romano Guardini gives us an insight into St. Paul’s words, Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned.
What is Adam to me? The answer (is): Everything! All humanity was contained in the first man, was there from the beginning. Everyone participated in his decision, also you. And were our feelings to rebel, should we attempt to deny any such responsibility or to jeer skeptically at the idea as fantastic, Revelation would probably reply: There you have it – the sin in you! If you lived in the truth, you would know that the claim to individual autonomy of being is in itself a sacrilege. The individual exists only in close relation to the whole of mankind. Already in secular history we see again and again how one person sets or changes the direction of the lives of all. What he does, somehow the others do with him, through him. How much truer then must this be of the ancestor and head of the human race! If Adam had not failed, the foundation of all human existence would be other than it is. Certainly, each of us would be individually tried and proved, but under quite different circumstances. The Lord, p. 243
“If you lived in the truth, you would know that the claim to individual autonomy of being is in itself sacrilege. The individual exists only in close relation to the whole of mankind.” A sacrilege is an act of treating something that is holy in a way that does not show proper respect; an affront to God. What does Fr. Guardini mean when he says that claiming to be autonomous, that is, self-sufficient and independent, is an insult to God and an attitude that reveals the sin in us?
I think Fr. Guardini is reminding us that every human life is connected with all others. Our actions have consequences far beyond our intentions. Our smallest choices exert influences that we cannot imagine…or want to imagine. We may want to deny it but we are responsible to and for one another.
Some of us may remember a commercial made by Nike, featuring basketball great Charles Barkley. Clips of Barkley’s flawless shooting and dunking are punctuated with snippets of his personal philosophy: “I am not a role model. I am not paid to be a role model. I am paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”
Perhaps Charles Barkley was only being paid to play basketball, but like every man and woman invited into life he was created to point others to God. He will never know until he gets to heaven how many boys and girls were carried along by the way he comported himself on and off the court.
Adam’s sin was not simply eating forbidden fruit. Adam sin was not just his disobedience. Adam’s greatest sin was not thinking of anyone but himself; certainly not thinking of us, his children. Perhaps in the end this is original sin: denying that each of us has a sphere of influence whether we like it or not. Each of us is our brother’s keeper whether we like it or not. Perhaps this Lent is a time for us to ask ourselves what kind of an influence we are having on those closest to us.