My first job in the field of social services was working in a treatment home for emotionally disturbed children. It was an emotionally challenging job for me, daily working with the distress the children experienced.
To help the children grow in behavioural self-control, we were to use "logical consequences" to teach the lessons of life.
The idea was that in choosing a consequence for negative behaviour, we were as much as possible to try to pick something that was similar to the natural consequence the behaviour would elicit in real life, or that at least was logically connected.
It was good preparation for my parenting years, as it firmly rooted me in the perspective that the negative choices children make are best addressed not by punishment, which is imposed from above, but by consequences that teach the natural order of things.
'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.'
So if you make a mess, you have to clean it up; if you are mean to your siblings, they aren't going to want to play with you; if you come home late and drunk, you're not going to be trusted to make a good choice tomorrow night, so you have to stay home. That is the way life works. When we treat our friends badly, the relationship breaks. When we don't look after our bodies, we get sick.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us death entered the world with the first sin. The original justice is destroyed, and the myriad consequences of original sin and personal sin lead to sickness, suffering, death and the influence of the power of the evil one at work in the world.
Sin leads to death, not as a punishment that is imposed, but rather as the natural consequence. This human condition is the context of Mark's account of Jesus' revelation to his disciples of the Passion that he must face in the days ahead. "The Son of Man is to be betrayed. . . ."
How do we best understand Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection? What does it mean that he would take upon himself the sin of the world and defeat death on the cross?
The Paschal Mystery is just that . . . a mystery beyond our understanding; and yet there are truths we can know. The catechism tells us that the consequence of original sin and personal sin "must not be conceived as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin."
Jesus did not take on the death penalty because an angry God required somebody to pay the price; but rather he took upon himself the consequence of our sin, accomplishing what we could never do for ourselves and thus restoring our relationship with the Father. We are the children who could never repair the damage we had done.
The meaning and process of our redemption is veiled in mystery and love and beauty; magnificent in its power and holiness and beyond the grasp of our understanding.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)