Laudatur Iesus Christus.
At the risk of sounding glib, let me approach this question with an analogy:
I believe this makes sense of the Church’s teachings:
Imagine that you are a father and that you want to please your son with a gift. You consider your son’s habits and pleasures and you decide to order him a hang-glider, because hang-gliding is one of his favorite activities.
However, the warehouseman sends a mountain bike by mistake.
Your son has never expressed any interest in biking. It has never occurred to him. In fact, your hints and his inquisitive intelligence have led your son to anticipate a new hang-glider and he is exited.
When he opens the box, he is disappointed. As you see his face fall, your pleasure dissolves. The gift has failed. It is outside the range of what your son does and therefore outside the range of what pleases him. Failing to please your son, the gift fails to please you, since your only goal in arranging the gift was his delight.
What solutions are there to this problem? Besides “sending it back where it came from” or “throwing it out,” what can be done with the bike?
The only way to “save” the bike as a gift for your son is for him to *take up biking *as a new and pleasing activity.
By taking up biking, your son converts a failed gift into a success. In turn, by converting the bike into a pleasing gift for himself, by enjoying it, your son makes the bike pleasing to you, because your goal of pleasing him is fulfilled. By extending his scope to include enjoyment of the bike, your son transforms the failed gift and the situation becomes as though the intended gift had been properly delivered.
Only your son could do this. The fact that anyone else would enjoy the bike or accept it as a gift would not be sufficient. To be an effective gift for your son, your son must take up the bike and make it useful to himself.
I think this is the kernel of understanding Christ’s atonement for our sins.
In broad outline:
Man and all of creation were intended by the Father as a pleasing gift for the Son. The Son’s sole activity is self-donating love for the Father. Only by expressing His love for the Father could creation please the Son. In turn, only thus could creation please the Father.
Man, however, mistakenly took a course that resulted in suffering and death. This was the result of man’s free choice and therefore could not be undone without disregarding man’s freedom. Since freedom is integral to authentic love, man’s choice could not be undone or disregarded, without again defeating the Father’s intention, by undermining man’s ability to authentically love.
Joyful, obedient, glorious, and undying man was intended to please the Son, but suffering-and-mortal man was delivered and could not be returned. How could the failed “gift” be saved?
The Son extended His expressions of love for the Father to include the consequences of man’s sin; He *took up *suffering and death as part of His activity of love. By using these repugnant consequences of man’s sin as additional ways of expressing His love and self-donation to His Father, Christ converted suffering and death. Christ accepted suffering and death as useful to Himself and therefore made them acceptable to the Father, when offered as expressions of Christ’s love.
Thus suffering-and-mortal man, who could not be separated from the consequences of Adam’s choice, was again made acceptable to God.
There are many elements of the problem of the Fall which affect the details of Salvation. To be complete this account would have to be much longer. However, I think this notion of the ontological conversion of a failed gift into an acceptable gift is the key to understanding how the Passion and Death of Christ effected atonement and made Salvation possible for fallen men.
I hope this is helpful.
Pax Christi nobiscum.