Return to the Father
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
The immediate consequence of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, whom God had created 'very good' (cfr 'Original Sin' in the Catechism of the Catholic Church), was their broken relationship with the Creator himself, consequently affecting their marriage relationship and even their family relationships, including the role of man as the breadwinner and of the woman as child-bearer, and the relationship among their offspring and their descendents (Gen 3). In a more global way the consequences of man's sin, which is always a sin of pride in himself resulting in disobedience towards God, thus setting to naught God's magnificent plan and purposes for mankind, created in his image, would become manifest in the many and frequent natural calamities that have been plaguing humanity ever since, beginning with 'the flood', even though, when God created the world, he saw that it was 'good'. For "The Lord saw how great was man's wickedness and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord grieved that he had made man and his heart was full of pain" (Gen 6).
The most dramatic way in which the result of man's stubbornness is related in the Bible is the account of the ten plagues undergone by the Egyptians because of their disobedience to God and their affliction of their fellow men. Both the Egyptians and the Israelites would not listen to Moses, God's spokesman, for opposite reasons: the Egyptians, because they were confident that God could not do anything against them; the Israelites, because they felt that God would not do anything for them. But the Lord heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians had enslaved and freed them 'with an outstretched arm (his power) and with mighty acts of judgment (the plagues)'.
The River Nile changing into blood, the whole country besieged with frogs, even in bedrooms, with gnats, and with flies, with their livestock dying, with festering boils breaking on men and animals, with hailstorms falling all over the land, with locusts covering the whole land, with total darkness over the whole country and, the worst plague, with the death of their firstborn sons (Ex 6 to 11). Then the Israelites knew that he was their Lord and their God and that they were his people, because he was the one who had delivered them from their oppressors and would bring them to the Promised Land.
The Biblical narrative seems to ascribe all these extraordinary and strange calamities directly to God, but this is the usual and typical biblical anthropomorphic style of ascribing ultimately to God as sole creator everything that man does however wicked, as act but not as motive. Catholic Biblical Theology distinguishes between God's decretal will, which is only for our good, and his permissive will, which allows evil to befall man. "For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments" (Ex 20: 5-6).
Down the course of centuries there have been many similar natural catastrophes and contagious epidemics: like leprosy in ancient times, the plague in the middle ages, called the 'black death', and more recently the earthquakes in China and Italy, the wind cyclones in North America, the water floods in Istanbul, and the sea tsunami in South Asia. And as of today, the commonly called 'swine flu pandemic' is a global outbreak of a new strain of an influenza first identified in April 2009. The outbreak began in Mexico, which was already in the midst of an epidemic for months before the outbreak was recognized.
Soon after, its government closed down most of Mexico City's public and private offices and facilities to help contain the spread. In early June, as the virus spread globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be a pandemic, though most illnesses were of moderate severity. The virus was spreading with unprecedented speed, just via coughing and sneezing, and many clinics were overwhelmed testing and treating patients. The USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that this was a very serious virus, quarantined airline passengers with flu symptoms, while some also pre-screened passengers.
This modern swine flu epidemic reminded me of another more ancient and more common swine flu epidemic, if I may so qualify it, as related in the Gospel parable of 'The Prodigal Son', the greatest short story written in any language in any country of the world, for it is, in a way, the story of everyone. It starts with the younger son demanding his share of his father's patrimony. He then went to a faraway country and squandered his new found wealth in wild and reckless living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country and, in despair, in order to earn a living, he hired himself out to feeding pigs, which no self respecting Jew would ever undertake, since the swine were looked upon as 'unclean', both physically and ritually. More than that, he was still so hungry, that he even longed to feed himself with the pods that the pigs were eating - but no one gave him anything. He had reached the end of his tether.
When he came to his senses, he said to himself, "My father's hired men have all the food to spare and here I am starving to death. I will set out now and go to my father and say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.'" So he got up and set off to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and, filled with compassion, ran to him, threw his arms round him and kissed him. He then said to his servants, "Lets us have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was lost and is now found, he was dead and is alive again" (cfr Lk 15:11-32). The worst 'swine flu' then that can afflict man is personal and social sin, that takes us far from God our Father, the source of our life and the giver of our all round health, and from our brothers, colleagues and neighbours, our main support and close back-up; and it is only through personal repentance and social reconciliation that this global epidemic can end.
But much worse than natural calamities, for which some may be tempted to blame God, are the man made tragedies, which are solely the work of man, of course with the Enemy, the tempter, liar and murderer, always active in the background: intense addictions to alcohol and drugs; pointless random mass massacres as in Rome, the Eternal City, and the deliberate atom bombing of the cathedral and of Catholics at prayer in Nagasaki during World War II: forced population transfers; female infanticide and casual abortions even by teenagers; terrorism in the name of religion, as of the World Trade Towers in New York; huge numbers of innocent people, as of my friend, the Archbishop of Kaunas, Lithuania, held for decades in concentration camps by Soviet Communists and Nazis; child sexual abuse and sexual laxity resulting in unprecedented numbers of AIDS stricken; sexual exploitation of young women by forcing them into prostitution, and of young men leading them into homosexuality; innocent victims of new age and new religious movements and of certain alternative medicine practices; targets of deliberately contrived diabolical attacks; not to mention the earth warming danger, the indiscriminate tree felling and the huge financial fraud in the USA.
Why cannot or will not God stop all this, in spite of the constant prayers of the just and faithful? God cannot stop and will not stop the consequences of man's sin from having their due effect, because he respects our free will, but he permits these 'punishments' as means of our correction, like a loving father does for his children, so as to change and transform us and bring us back into his loving embrace and plan. As St. Peter puts it so wisely, the Lord seems to delay the Day of his coming, because he is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but desiring everyone to come to repentance. We therefore need to lead holy and godly lives, as we look forward to the day of the Lord and speed its coming and, in keeping with and trusting in his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth (2Pet 3:9,11-13).
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