O Felix Culpa!

A happy fault?

This past week two people told me that they don’t understand original sin. What inspired both of them to share this with me, I do not know. One person is an Irish-Catholic, first-generation American, and the other is a practicing Muslim, who thinks it is important to learn about other faiths. If it had been one person, I might not have noticed. The Irish Catholic and I frequently talk Catholic to each other, but the Muslim?

When someone tells me they don’t quite understand original sin, I am not at all surprised. As a child, I was never able to grasp and, therefore, began to resist Church teaching on original sin. “I’m innocent!” I would shout in my soul. “What did I do? Nothing! I’ve not hurt anyone!” But in time, after much opportunity to demonstrate my own weaknesses; through grace, study and prayer; and an increase in self-knowledge, I am no longer able to imagine a human, no matter how young and innocent, who is not marred by original sin and concupiscence. Human nature discloses itself each and every day. Now, original sin seems evident to me, requiring no explanation. How could anyone miss it, as well as the need for a remedy?

The challenge to me this week was how to explain original sin to someone without using too much, if any, Catholicspeak or scripture. Our faith is rich and deep. A lifetime is not long enough to contemplate it. The teachings are interconnected, and where there is one question about doctrine, there are most likely at least a dozen more.

For now, this is the best I can do:

An artist, let’s say, Edgar Degas, has a vision in his mind and heart to sculpt a little ballerina. He sees and knows every detail even before he has begun to gather his materials. He knows also that this original will be the mold used to create many others like it.

Degas begins to work, with much joy and love. Imagine that, like God, Degas could not only shape and form a new creation, but also give it life. As he sculpts, he talks to his creation, and fills her mind with dreams of all she will be and do. He talks of beauty, strength, and grace. Exhilaration and freedom.

As Degas completes his ballerina, she is everything he imagined and hoped. Degas delights in his creation. But before the ballerina can begin to dance, she must wait one final evening, for everything to set in place. He instructs his dancer to rest until morning, and then she may rise and dance.

At first the ballerina is content and closes her eyes with a smile. But soon the dreams of sleep wake, and sparks of impatience begin to grow in the ballerina’s heart. Another of Degas’ creations, who watched the artist work and heard his words of love, comes over to speak to the new family member. He wants to see her dance and invites her to get up, just give it a try, to see if it is all true. “Why wait?” he asks her. “Look at me, you’ll be just like me,” he says as he spins around. The ballerina thinks to herself that she is strong and ready. She steps out, and immediately falls and breaks her leg.

The mold that was to be used for so many other ballerinas is permanently marred.

In the morning, Degas comes to his studio eagerly, only to discover a broken sculpture. He has a choice. He can throw out what he has made, or he can fix it. Degas still loved his little ballerina, and refuses to abandon the dreams and plans he had for her. He will mend what has been broken.

So it is with God. As Adam and Eve sinned, we, too, are marred with this defect. Part of our weakness is our inability to comprehend God’s infinite love and mercy. God did not throw out his creation, only to start over and make something else. Rather, God made a way for us to be healed and live fully.

In the fullness of time, Jesus, Son of God, was born of woman, shed his blood to atone for every sin of ours, that we may be restored to the fullness of life for all eternity.

Baptism restores us. And where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).

Blessed be the name of God. Praised be Jesus Christ.

Quote of the Day

The hand that graciously elevated mud into our form, graciously elevated flesh also for our restoration. Therefore the fact that the Creator is found in his creature, and that God is found in flesh, is an honor for the creature and not a humiliation for the Creator…. Man, whom he had made an earthly creature, he now has made a heavenly creature; one who was animated by a human spirit he quickens into a divine spirit. Thus he assumes him wholly into God so that he leaves nothing in him of sin, of death, of toil, of sorrow, of earth. — Saint Peter Chrysologus, Homily on the Nativity of Our Lord (406–450)


  • Read about original sin at Catholic Answers
  • Read about original sin in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
    • Part One – The Profession of Faith, Section Two – The Profession of Christian Faith, Chapter One – I Believe in God the Father, Article I – I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Paragraph 7 – The Fall
    • Part Three – Life in Christ, Section One – Man’s Vocation Life in the Spirit, Chapter One – The Dignity of the Human Person, Article 8 — Sin

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