Shipwrecked and Homesick
Because of the effects of Original Sin, we are like shipwrecked and seasick mariners homesick for paradise. According to Pope John Paul II, we have a built-in reminder of what G.K. Chesterton calls, ‘a feeling of being homesick’. “Historical man is, so to speak, rooted in his revealed theological prehistory. So every point of his historical sinfulness is explained with reference to original innocence”. By original innocence, he is referring to humanity before sin.
Before sin, humans were not only blessed with original innocence but with four amazing qualities. These are called the ‘preternatural gifts’. They are Infused knowledge (the ability to know without rigorous study), Immortality (the ability to live forever), Impassibility (the ability to not experience pain and suffering) and Integrity (the ability to not be inclined toward evil).
Not only are we left with a God-shaped hole after the Fall but we are also missing these four abilities which were lost as Adam and Eve willfully stepped out of God’s presence and into a state of being shipwrecked. We homesick humans, stranded in a fallen state, are an empty shell of what we once were. We are suddenly hungry for knowledge, afraid of pain and suffering, prone to sin and we tend to dread even the mention of an inevitable death. To put it bluntly, "We are all sea-sick, and we are all in the same boat" (G.K. Chesterton).
Chesterton continued with the seafarer motif, "We are shipwrecked mariners with only a faint memory of the voyage". When G.K. Chesterton came to this dreadful realization, for him it was an epiphany, a breakthrough and a the key to understanding all of reality…
He said, “I had tried to be happy by telling myself that man is an animal, like any other which sought its meat from God. But now I really was happy, for I had learnt that man is a monstrosity... The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence. But I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring. The knowledge found out and illuminated forgotten chambers in the dark house of infancy. I knew now why grass had always seemed to me as queer as the green beard of a giant, and why I could feel homesick at home” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy).
Dualism Ruled Out
C.S. Lewis, like Chesterton, also took up the problem of the Fall. He considered only one other view of reality to be a possible explanation for the problem of evil. The concept of dualism, for Lewis, is the only contender to Original Sin. “What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but contains creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other view is called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is a battlefield in which they fight out an endless war.” (Mere Christianity Ch2)
He goes on to dismantle Dualism as not, in the end, a viable theory. The Bad Power, “… must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good things. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow and steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? This is not a mere story for children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given by its goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things—resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.”
Reasons to Hope
Instead of the hope of a heavenly homecoming, the nihilist sees only the cruel world, not fallen just bad. There never was an Eden and there never will be another world. For each person there is only annihilation after death. We know, as believers, were made for greater things.
Two points are necessary to add. The first one is that the Catholic view of the Fall does not go so far as to say that humanity is completely depraved or completely ruined. We have retained our goodness. We are not dung itself, we just smell like it and have a tendency to roll around in it. We are broken, damaged but not beyond repair. More, importantly we will not only be repaired but we will become “dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to Him perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.” (Mere Christianity). We are capable of a metamorphosis but only through an arduous process of sanctification.
The second point is that being in exile does not mean that God abandoned us. Even though we are born in exile surrounded by self-inflicted pain, suffering and death God still communicated his love for us and clothed the outcasts and promised to send a Redeemer. “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall. This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium ("first gospel"): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.” (CCC 410). Even in Genesis three we see this message, albeit veiled : If you want to have any hope, believe in and trust in Jesus Christ.
Heaven our Destination, our Home
As a foretaste of a heavenly homecoming, the sacraments are our passport, birth certificate and family right to say that we belong in heaven as our true home. Heaven is where the sacraments end. They are no longer made available to us because there is no need for a ritualistic, veiled sign of God’s presence when his presence consumes us totally.
One final point, if Chesterton is going to use the mariner imagery, then we point to Mary, the Star of the Sea, Stella Maris. This title is used by seafarers for Our Lady. She is a guiding star for those on the perilous journey to Christ. May we who are in the barque of Peter arrive safely at our destination.
Mary, Star of the Sea, pray for us.