Xavier University theologian Ken Overberg, S.J., has made denying the core doctrine of the Atonement and Christ’s salvific action on the cross his life’s work. So it comes as no surprise, appalling though it is, that he devotes a lengthy Lenten sermon at Bellarmine Chapel to this topic. That he is able to do so without any fear of correction, by Xavier’s president or Cincinnati’s archbishop, is scandalous. Here’s an excerpt:
It is right and just that at least once each Lent we are reminded that we don’t have to believe that God sent Jesus to suffer and die for us. There is no “happy fault or necessary sin.” Jesus did indeed die a violent death of crucifixion. That was an historical event. But the interpretation of the event is an act of theology and faith. And there are different interpretations in our Christian tradition.
Lent is an especially difficult time for those who try to believe in a nonviolent God. Scriptures and prayers, songs and sermons praise suffering and the cross. They speak of a wondrous love that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse. God sends Jesus to suffer and die for our sins.
The Law of Retribution and the ancient-but-ever-new religion of “violence saves” seem to have trumped Jesus’ teaching about a God of compassion and healing, of life and love. So throughout Lent we hear of ransom and sacrifice, expiation and atonement.
We find a clear refutation to Overberg’s heresy in paragraph 118 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
118. Why was the death of Jesus part of God’s plan?
To reconcile to himself all who were destined to die because of sin God took the loving initiative of sending his Son that he might give himself up for sinners. Proclaimed in the Old Testament, especially as the sacrifice of the Suffering Servant, the death of Jesus came about “in accordance with the Scriptures”.