I grew up in the country in a family neighborhood that included seven families. My grandparents lived next door to my parents, and all of the other families in the neighborhood were made up of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. One of the uncles was my dad’s brother, Bill Williams. His house was located next to a wooded area where he would sometimes hunt for rabbits and quail. Uncle Bill loved hunting so much, he set up a little “gun shop” in his basement where he could re-fill his own shotgun shells.
To this day I don’t know how he did it, but during my teenage years, Uncle Bill routinely talked me and my cousins into doing work around his house in exchange for the “privilege” of using his shotguns (for about ten minutes at a time) to shoot at black birds that would fly over the trees in the woods every evening. After we were done shooting, he would convince us to go into his shop and re-fill the shotgun shells that we used. He was a master at getting us to do things for him.
On one occasion when Uncle Bill was going to allow us to shoot his 22 caliber rifle, my dad warned me about the distance a bullet could travel. Unlike the buckshot that was used in shotgun shells, a rifle bullet could travel more than a mile when it was shot into the air. The danger of shooting a bullet into the air was that there was always a possibility that it could hit someone when it finally came down from the sky.
I thought about my dad’s warning earlier this week when I read about the death of a fifteen year old Amish girl in Fredericksburg, Ohio. The girl, Rachel Yoder, was shot in the head and killed while she was driving home from a Christmas party in a horse-drawn buggy.
The bullet that pierced through her skull came from a rifle that was shot into the air from a mile and a half away by a man who had been cleaning his gun. The man contacted the local sheriff’s office after he heard the news about the death of the girl. In the article that I read about the shooting, the local county sheriff was quoted as saying, “In all probability, it looks like an accidental shooting.”
In my discussion last week about the five components that are necessary to make a genuine apology, I talked about the importance of beginning and ending with a prayer, and making certain statements that could be used to redeem the person who committed the offence, while repairing any damage that had been done by the offensive behavior.
I’m sure the man who shot his rifle feels terrible about the death of the girl, and I assume that he has already apologized to the her family; however, regardless of how genuine or sincere his apology was, there are no words (or deeds he could perform) that could repair the damage that was done by the bullet that came from his gun. When he pulled the trigger, a debt was created with regard to the girl and her family. There is no way he will ever be able to repay that debt.
Almost every day, in criminal courtrooms throughout the United States, convicted criminals stand before judges and apologize for the violent acts they committed against helpless innocent victims. Even if most of those apologies are genuine, there is nothing those criminals can say or do that will redeem them in the eyes of their victims or repair the permanent damage that was caused by their violent acts. Every criminal act creates a debt toward the victim and the victim’s family, a debt that can never be repaid.
There are certain acts that are so egregious that it’s humanly impossible for the person who committed the act to redeem himself or repair the permanent damage that has resulted from his actions. The same applies to sin. Every time we sin, a debt is created. There are some sins that are so egregious, there is nothing that can be done to repair the damage.
The first (original) sin was in that category. How destructive was the sin of Adam and Eve? It was so destructive: (1) it introduced pain, suffering, and death into the lives of Adam, Eve, and the lives of every one of their ancestors; and (2) it closed the gates of heaven to all humanity. There was nothing Adam and Eve could have said (in the form of a genuine apology) or done to redeem themselves or repair the damage that was caused by their sin.
As a part of our Catholic faith, we believe in the theological concept of reparation. The word reparation is derived from the Latin word reparare, which means to prepare anew or restore. The primary purpose of an act of reparation is to make amends by repaying a debt that was created by a morally bad action. An act of reparation can make up for the losses sustained and the harm caused by the morally bad action. In most circumstances, a genuine apology can be considered an act of reparation.
So why was it that God came to this earth as a helpless child, only to grow up and be tortured and murdered by the evil men who felt threatened by His presence?
He came to make amends and repair the damage that had been done by the original sin of Adam and Eve, and the damage that has (and will be) caused by my sins, your sins, and the sins of all mankind. His coming to this earth was an act of reparation – an act that was meant to make up for the losses sustained and the harm caused by each and every one of us. In a sense, our Lord came to this earth to apologize – not for Himself, but for all of us – what I would characterize as The Divine Apology.
It was only through His divine apology that He was able to redeem (liberate) us from our sins and repair the damage that had been caused by the sin of Adam and Eve. His suffering and death opened up the gates of heaven for anyone who loves and follows Him.
So who benefited from the divine apology? You already know the answer: The fifteen year old Amish girl; the innocent victims of crime; you and me. Something for each of us to think about when we celebrate the birth of our Savior on Christmas day.