Teaching catechism to little kids is a deliciously straightforward enterprise. You get to tell them wonderful, captivating stories, and then drop the bombshell: "And guess what? It's all true!" And they are delighted. When those same kids get older, though, you will find yourself stretching your apologetics muscles a bit more -- at least, you will if you're doing it right! If the kids have no questions, it means you're not conveying the urgent, glorious strangeness of our Faith.
As I prepped the younger kids for their first confession, one of my seasoned students started to scowl. She knew all about original sin; but, from the vantage point of her teenage years, it suddenly struck her as manifestly unfair: So Adam and Eve sinned. So they ruined Eden for themselves. But how in the world is it fair that they ruined things for the rest of us? How is it right that a tiny little inoffensive baby would be born with the stain of original sin on his soul, even though he didn't do anything?
A good question. First we reviewed the difference between original sin and actual sin. I explained that the story of original sin is less like one man committing a crime and all his ancestors being punished, and more like one man somehow injecting a faulty strain of DNA into his genetic makeup, and all his ancestors inheriting it. This genetic flaw leaves us weak and prone to sickness because of what he did.
I also tried to emphasize that it was not only that men and women were changed when Adam and Eve sinned -- it was the whole world that changed. They know the story of Pandora's Box, and the story of the loss of Eden is something like that: our first parents just had to open that box, and all those awful things -- shame, greed, anger, envy, pain, loneliness and death -- flew out, and continue to buzz and flap around our heads. Adam and Eve's sin wasn't just a one-time even that God, for some reason, can't get past. It changed things.
And of course the good news -- the Good News, in fact -- is that, after Adam and Eve changed the world, Jesus came to change it even more. Here's the real answer to my kid's question about how it's fair. We heard it in the second reading at Mass last Sunday:
For if, by the transgression of the one,
death came to reign through that one,
how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace
and of the gift of justification
come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.
Instead of asking, "How is it fair that we're all damaged by one man's sin?" we should be asking, "How is it fair that, through the love of one Man, we are all saved, all rescued, all glorified, and we all have a standing inviation to enter into eternal life? How is that fair?
It's not fair. It's better than fair. It breaks all the boundaries of what is just. It floods over the seawall of reason and changes the landscape forever. This is what we mean when we say, "Christ is the answer to all questions." It's not some kind of ooky platitude. He really is the answer, Himself, His person, His life. Once you encounter Him, there is nothing left to ask.