In his theological study “On the Incarnation,” St. Athanasius of Alexandria explains at length how he believed God arrived at his decision to send his only Son to save mankind
“…because death and corruption were gaining an ever permanent hold on them, the human race was in the process of destruction. Man who was created in God’s image and in his possession of reason reflected the very word himself was disappearing and the Word of God was being undone. The law of death which followed from a transgression prevailed upon us and from it there was no escape. The thing that was happening was, in truth, both monstrous and unfitting. It would of course be unthinkable that God should go back upon his word and man, having transgressed, should not die. But it was equally monstrous that beings which once shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil sprits. As then the creatures whom he had created reasonable like the Word were in fact perishing and such noble works were on the road to ruin. What then was God, being good, to do?”
Pia de Solenni, associate dean at the Augustine Institute in Garden Grove and diocesan theologian, explains that the Incarnation was the only answer.
“We needed the Incarnation because it’s both the divine and the human making reparation,” she said. “That’s the beauty of the Incarnation. Christ was the only one that could make reparation for original sin because it was the divine that has been offended, so you needed God to make it up to God.”
The manifestation of the Father’s love through the giving of his only Son, to become human, suffer and die on a cross for the sins of mankind meant that humans were granted salvation. This great act of love created a lasting impression on humans.
“The Incarnation is a major, definitive moment in establishing the Church,” said de Solenni.
Historically, Jesus was born to parents who were peasants and he lived simply, yet his life and sacrifice has influenced every facet of human history for the last 2,000 years.
His life and death has converted souls, made Him the subject of best selling books and major Hollywood films and He has been depicted in famous works of art. Michelangelo’s Pieta and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper are some well-known examples.
“I think He made such an impression because of the fact that Jesus is both God and man,” said de Solenni. “Even for those who don’t recognize His divinity, they still recognize that there is something extraordinary about this man. What’s beautiful is that for 2,000 years the majority of the world has been talking about this man, whether they agree with Him or not.”
De Solenni recommends reading the gospels for those who have a difficult time agreeing or believing in the mystery of the Incarnation.
“People need to be encouraged to approach Scripture meditatively whether they are believers or not,” said de Solenni. “You have to be willing to allow yourself to be disposed to the mystery.”
Lent is a perfect time to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation because it connects with the sacrament of reconciliation. The sacrament was promoted in a statement recently issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called A Pastoral Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
“The Church sees confession as so important that she requires every Catholic go at least once a year. The Church also encourages frequent confession in order to grow closer to Christ Jesus and his Body, the Church. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we seek forgiveness and repentance, let go of patterns of sin, grow in the life of virtue and witness to a joyful conversion.”
Confession and conversion are just some of the steps towards holiness. They can be used to show God thanksgiving for choosing to send his only Son to become human, suffer and die for the sins of mankind.
The season of Lent and the image of ourselves each time we look into the mirror reminds us of God’s gift of salvation by sending us His only Son.