What follows is a rather long, personal account of how I discovered the answer to the question, “Why
did God want to become human?” If you would rather not read my narrative, you can find the answer by reading the Catholic Update
by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J. It is titled, appropriately enough, “The Incarnation: Why God Wanted to Become Human.”
(Click here to read the article
Three years, ago the Franciscans I work for sent me on a pilgrimage to Assisi. (They send 10 lay employees
a year from their various ministries, parishes, etc. It is their way of sharing their charism.) The experience changed my life.
Before I left for Italy, I asked God to help me experience Jesus as Francis and Clare might have experienced
him. And after two days in the city, I can only assume that’s what happened. While walking in the streets of Assisi,
I experienced a sense of joy so profound that at times I found myself singing an “Alleluia.” The experience was
different than ordinary happiness, because there was an intense sense of peace at its core. I felt like I was home.
I received no great intellectual insights on the pilgrimage, just that extraordinary intuitive sense of joy.
After returning from the pilgrimage, I asked my spiritual director (a Franciscan theologian)
to help me learn more about Jesus. And that was the beginning of my awakening to a theology of joy—an
awakening that is changing my life.
Here’s what I’ve discovered so far, obviously abbreviated, in my own words
and based on my life experiences.
I grew up with a theology of atonement. Jesus was sent by his father to die on the cross to save me
from my sins. Indeed, the prevalent theology of the time taught that Jesus would not have come if Adam and Eve had not
sinned. When I was growing up, this theology affected my image of God and myself.
At the age of six I knew I was a sinner (great self-image!!), and Jesus had to die on the cross
because of my sins. I was certainly told God loved me, but on some unconscious level (later, conscious level)
I couldn’t imagine any father loving someone who caused his son to die. Add to that the daily ego-busting
happenings of growing up, and I found myself feeling less than lovable. I “mea culpa-ed” my way well
into adulthood and even managed to translate the Rahner theology I learned in graduate school to meet the theology
of atonement so deep in my spiritual roots.
Please understand I know atonement theology has some really true and important things to
teach us. I am a sinner, and Jesus did come to save me. But that’s not the whole story.
I have learned that there needs to be a balance of atonement theology with a theology of joy. That balance came
for me with an introduction to the Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus.
Duns Scotus lived 50 years after Aquinas (100 years after Francis). He taught that Jesus
would have come even if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned. It was planned from all eternity that the goodness
of the triune God would be shared and lived and loved beyond the Trinity itself. That was Gods plan.
It was always planned that Jesus would come to show us what humanness is all about, to share
his humanness with us and, through that humanness and in that humanness, to share in divine life.
Jesus is the one in whom, through whom and for whom all things came into being. Jesus is the
firstborn of all that lives and the firstborn of all that has died. Absolute primacy belongs to Jesus in everything
and everyone (Col 1, Eph 1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God (Jn 1:1). We all know that was Jesus.
I also remembered learning about the prime mover in metaphysics. God doesnt
reactGod acts. If Jesus only came because of Adam and Eves sin, wouldnt that mean God was
reacting to a creatures action?
So here I am, and this is what I know: There is something so great in being human that
Jesus was planned from before the beginning of time. And besides that, he saved me.
I have also learned a new understanding of being saved. Being saved does not just mean
having my sins forgiven. Within Gods plan (the mystery of the triune Gods love) the people God
created sinned. So when Jesus came he saved us: He saved us from sin, shared his life with us and brought us to
union (with God, Gods people and all of creation).
Salvation is much bigger than forgiveness of sin. Salvation means fulfillment.
It is the fulfillment of all of Gods plans for us and for all of creation. It is the bringing to completion
of all creatures.
The Latin word salus means healthy. The adjective salvus
means whole. To be saved is to be whole. Salvation offers us the chance to become who we were created
to be, so that we can reclaim our place in Gods plan and become one with God and all that God created.
There are three parts to salvation: Part one is forgiveness of sin. Part two is accepting
the newness of love and life Jesus offers us. (Here was my obstacleone has to truly believe one is
lovable to accept love.) Part three is when we come into unity with all that is. The kicker is this:
Forgiveness of sin (part one) means nothing without parts two and three.
The trip to Assisi was a great blessing. The love of my family and my friends had
convinced me over the years that I am lovable, but in Assisi I became certain of the fact. In the streets
and plazas where Francis and Clare walked, I felt Gods love. And finally, thanks to the Franciscans
in my life, I am finding the words to share why that is so important.
So, Ill end where I began, with an invitation to read the Catholic Update
written by Ken Overberg, S.J., The
Incarnation and Why God Wanted to Become Human.
Postscript: The word dunce crept into the language in the 15th century as a way to
ridicule those who believed the teachings of John Duns Scotus. Thats one way to curb a teaching.