If I said, “Remember a time in your childhood when you could experience ‘innocence,’” what would you remember? It might be a specific holiday in your family or the scent of your grandmother’s bread baking or the vision of playing in your back yard or falling asleep in someone’s arms. Such memories are not universal, but most of us have some baseline memory of when life was safe, predictable, and loving. In many ways, this time was our own personal “Original Goodness.” It forms a grounding in goodness that anchors us, no matter what difficulties or traumas we later experience.
Life being what it is, evil being what it is, for some people such memories are fragile or non-existent. My therapist training has taught me that those who experienced trauma, violence, war, or neglect so early in their lives that they have no Original Goodness memories must find them somehow in some relationship later in life.
We all need an anchor in innocent goodness.
Today’s first reading from Genesis explains why: living in such goodness was God’s intention for all humankind. It was his Plan A. With adjustments it remains his Plan B. God created us from love to love.
Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 give us two slightly different stories of creation and the origin of human beings. Pope Saint John Paul II used these narratives as the foundation for his series of weekly audiences known as the Theology of the Body, especially through 1979 and 1980.
I want to use some of his insights today to help us appreciate that time in history that preceded “original sin.” It was the time of innocence sometimes called “Original Goodness.” It is important for us, because Christ’s death and resurrection enable us to eventually RETURN to the relationship with God that was there in that time of “Original Goodness.”
We need to know what that relationship looks like so we can better grow into it. Let’s look at what Genesis tells us in today’s readings about what God intends for those who love him:
- “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”
God created man (humankind) for relationship. We are not meant to be alone. We need suitable partners.
Why did God create us for relationship? Because God Himself is a trinity of relationship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He created us in his own image.
Why is God a trinity of relationship? Because God’s nature is to love—and at the core of love is the overflowing of self to another. So God, in his essence, is Being Love. Love must be in relationship.
- “So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them…but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.”
I smile at this! The way the story reads, God was experimenting! He tried to satisfy us with dogs and cats and cattle and robins, but it didn’t quite work. I’m not sure what theologians do with this when explaining the perfection of God, but it gives me encouragement for when I have to face God when my first efforts at a project or virtue do not work the way I had hoped!
Anyway, God tried again:
- “So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”
How fascinating! At the time of Original Goodness, God worked to please man. He loved this man whom he had made. His nature poured forth to create a suitable partner to please him. God worked until he did it!
And, perhaps even more fascinating, man was pleased! He was satisfied with what God gave him. He saw the woman as of the same being as he was.
- “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”
God loved both the man and the woman enough that he gave them to each other—to cling to each other as suitable partners. They separated themselves from him, to a certain extent, as people through time separate from their parents to cling to husband or wife.
- “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.”
In this state of loving each other (and still loving God) nothing needed to be hidden. All was safe—because all was innocent and good. In Genesis 3 we find out that God walked in the Garden in the cool of the evening to walk and talk with man and woman. There was openness, communication, sharing among all of them.
So, How Does This Apply to Us Now?
The readings tomorrow continue the story of the origin of man with the story of “The Fall,” of original sin. That, too, had to be part of God’s plan, because love cannot be commanded: there must always be free choice to love or not to love. We were created in the image of God but as creatures, a people who often choose to seek good of self instead of good of all. We are no longer innocent because we can and do make that choice.
But God sent us Jesus. God became human like us in everything but sin. He both showed us the way to be more fully formed in the image of God and paid the price for all sin and sinfulness by being God and man who choose together to die of love on the cross for us. Then Jesus’ Resurrection, Ascension, and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit, Church, and sacrament enable God to guide us now, today, toward returning to our roots of Goodness.
How do we return to goodness?
We do this through living in our bodies—being men and women in families and communities. We do this by simply being male and female. We do this by making ourselves gifts to each other—in marriage, in family life, in church community.
God gifted us with life, with life with God, and with life in family relationships. He made us from love to love.
In the United States, the week of February 7-14 is designated National Marriage Week by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Marriage takes lots of hits these days. Original sin and personal sin and all their complications compromise marriage in a million ways. But God intended marriage and family life to be filled with goodness. It can be filled with goodness again as we grow in our willingness to live by God’s standards, God’s way of love of both God and our family.
Not easy. But possible. Possible no matter what our history of family life has been. It takes lots of will and time and sometimes struggle, but it can be done.
Today, because how we live in marriage and family life is so complicated by culture, generations, and our own choices not living by God’s intended plan, we can grow hopeless and give up on God’s plan for human happiness, including his plan for married life.
But Jesus life, death, and resurrection give us hope (assurance!) that we can grow to return to living in love. The questions are about how.
How can we practice habits of self-giving love to move life in our families a step closer to the original (and eventual) goodness God intended? What can we do today?
Lord, my family life has not been a life of Original Goodness. Pretty much all the major sins of the 20th century live somewhere in my family tree. And I am not innocent. As I remember both times of innocence and goodness and times of trouble and sin, lead me into Your arms, Lord. Forgive me, forgive all of us, and heal us. Help us all to forgive and accept each other. Strengthen our capacity to love and serve each other. Let sins of our past stop now and be replaced by living in Your love, Your grace, Your will. Amen.