Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A little more on Atonement

I’m not wading into the controversies on the mechanism by which the Atonement works. A lot of it is very esoteric stuff, and too sophisticated for me to get my mind around. (Words like “teleological” “eschatological” and “Thomistic” appearing in the same essay always make my brain hurt.) What is most important about the Atonement is that it does work, disagreements on the mechanics notwithstanding.

Taking the word at its face value—to make "at" (or into) one—we are fortunate to see a way in which we can in fact atone for the sins of others. When I wrote that Law must be forgiven, that nnecessarily means different things for different people. For me, never abused by a priest, let alone one under Law’s obedience, I cannot forgive Law a wrong he has done to others. I can only forgive him what he has done to me, by bringing discredit on the church, by exposing Christ’s body to grave danger, whatever wrongs I am able to perceive against me personally.

But, strange as it may seem, I can atone for his sins, in the sense of working to make him and the community once again “at one.” I can atone for the sins of Paul Shanley, too, and for those of everyone who has done anything wrong within our church. I do so not by pretending to repent of that which I have not done, but by accepting in charity and humility the anger and scorn and hatred of the victims of these men and of the outsiders who seek to use this as a cudgel against the Church. I can do so by assisting those who have been harmed with prayer and charity. I can do so by giving total support to those who would further open the Church to the working of the Holy Spirit.

It does not matter that “I have done nothing wrong.” One of the callings of Christians is to be Christ-like, to imitate Christ in the ways which life offers us. In this time of great unrest and terrible hatred and anger, a Christ-like willingness to bear the burdens of the moment will in a very real sense be an Atonement for the sins of others. I possess the power to forgive only those who have wronged me. But I can work for the forgiveness of anyone at all.


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