|7||then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.|
|8||And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.|
|9||And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.|
|1||Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”|
|2||And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;|
|3||but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”|
|4||But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.|
|5||For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”|
|6||So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.|
|7||Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.|
On this past first Sunday of yet another Lent in our lives, the reading
from Genesis evoked the aching beauty, innocence and simplicity of God’s paradise in Eden. Then abruptly, we came upon the great temptation together with man’s fall from grace. The Gospel reading took us to a world putrid with original sin, as Satan insolently thrice tempted Christ.
In this first week of Lent, we find Jesus arriving at another garden, His
Gethsemane. Here, we bridge the abyss from sin to Christ as we encounter the enormity and mystery of God’s love for us – a love as terrifying as it is soaring. In many ways, it is a love that profoundly disturbs the conscience precisely because it is incomprehensible to fallen man to be loved without so passionately and without reservation. When grace is cast off, man remains jaundiced with worldly cynicism, rejecting the very concept of such an encompassing love. Precisely because he merits nothing and achieves nothing on his own, man distrusts love eternal as some sort of unreachable dream. What could possibly qualify him for his Divinity’s love, so pure and so ardent? Would anyone indeed be willing to bridge the chasm caused by so much sin and evil? For so long, man has possessed nothing, nothing but the struggle of life; how can he ever possess the love of God?
Man can do nothing on his own since surrendering his own innocence,
trading it for a scornful distrust of the good and the beautiful. In this trade,
man renounced everything childlike, particularly all childlike expectations
of authentic love. Now, he may well be able to fathom the tortures of the
damned, but he cannot grasp pure love without grave doubts and
paranoia. Guilt-ridden and culpable, he finds everything complicated. He has made himself worldly-wise, checking the cost of everything, believing he must manipulate in order to receive.
Yet Lent calls us not to a reckoning but instead to our own redemption!
Christ is the bridge! In his very body, Christ takes our blows and
lovingly invites jaded man back home. Jesus pays the cost for us. He
kneels in this second garden, face tortured, eyes terrified, soul in
complete agony. All have left Him. This shocking part of Christ’s Passion suspends even man’s skepticism. He watches breathless, seeing with childlike eyes, and shudders at his own brutality. Although he is still a mere spectator, not yet choosing to participate in Jesus’ passion, man at last tastes revulsion. In his horror, the man-child watches the God-man in this darkened Eden. At last he is able to see His God haunted by the ghastly sins committed by man, whom He loves so dearly.
Our Lord makes himself our ransom. Despite our rejection, He loves us. It is incomprehensible, but undeniable. The sins man once thought small and justifiable now ricochet through the Body of Christ. Union and harmony are visibly shattered as Jesus shakes and convulses in Gethsemane. He accepts the impact of every sin in our stead. The man-child witnesses the force of unjustified evil, and he recoils at his own incalculable sins. Man at last sees how he has willfully, severely and ruthlessly battered the heart of Jesus. Now, as Christ shivers in the dark, the most Precious Blood pulsates through every pore of his body, seeping onto flowers, grass, and rocks in Gethsemane. Those with any wisdom, any humility, bathe in Christ’s blood. They are made whole.
Ah, how the child now sees Christ’s Heart as the primordial source of
Jesus’ most awful pain. All else will be nothing compared to Our Lord’s
emotional and spiritual pain. Jesus endures His remaining Passion with a heart so broken, that it bleeds through his very skin. Jesus, the new
Adam, goes forth from this garden of redemption disconsolate but yearning to embrace the wood of the Cross. In that unfathomable agony of heart, Jesus endures the beatings, the mockery, the stabbings, the scourging, and the surrender of His life blood. As if that were not enough, He must endure all of it under the tormented gaze of His beloved Mother, the new Eve. The greatest pain for Jesus always pierces Him when He sees us unwilling to return His simple love. Mary knows. Our Mother knows that each excruciating blow, so freely endured by her Son for us, cannot ever measure up to this original agony of His broken Heart. Lent focuses us on the woe of this beautiful loving Heart, smashed and pommeled by us. Still, Jesus never ceases to love.
In the example of her Son, Mary offers love not retribution. This *Stabat
Mater* offers her hand to us, and guides us from Gethsemane to Paradise. Mary leads us forward, the guiding Star of every stormy Sea. In her, with her, through her very body, we will come to Easter if we but open to that magnificent Heart of her Son. Lent breaks us too, if we are willing. Then we begin to understand that the constancy of unconditional love is found in the broken Heart of Jesus Christ — He who is unchanging love, limitless mercy, and unreserved fidelity. His is a love and a relationship rooted in paradox and mystery, but formed in everlasting love. Lent takes us home.