The Garden of Eden
God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden called Eden. The word Eden means God's garden or a place that is fruitful and has plenty of water. We were not only created in God's image and likeness but also formed from the rich ground of God's own garden. Therefore, besides being a ray of light that illuminates the faith of those who feel doubtful and a dash of salt that preserves the hope of those who feel discouraged, we are also a spiritual soil that can germinate seeds of love for those who feel lonely. In God's garden, we are a parcel of land for others.
Lent is the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves: How is our patch of Eden growing? What weeding, tilling and attending to is needed in our section of God's good earth so that the kernels of evangelization can take root and flourish?
The Covenantal Garden
Through their disobedience to God's command, as well as our continued disobedience to God's covenant, Adam and Eve abused the beautiful garden God had given them. Instead of basking in innocence, they stripped leaves from the vines to cover their naked bodies. The lie of the fork-tongued serpent, who promised they would become as smart as God, quickly gave way to the truth. They discovered that once separated from the vine, branches and leaves wither away quickly and die. Whenever creatures defy the Creator, the joyful valley of Eden becomes a sorrowful valley of tears.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Each time we separate ourselves from the true vine we are choosing to stray from living heartily in God's garden and preferring to exist in a self-centered desert of heartbreak. Jesus saw our misguided choices when he himself agonized for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. Through tears of our own making we often cry out this question: Why, if God is all knowing, and all powerful and all benevolent, is suffering even permitted? The rhetorically convincing answer, albeit sadly erroneous, is that suffering must exist for the sake of free will. This reply “works” but it is deceiving. In place of such sophistry we should defer to St. Thomas Aquinas and remember that bad arguments for the sake of the faith bring bad credit upon the faith. Suffering exists so that we can intervene with mercy. Each time we see misery but refuse to pray for the downtrodden, we are refusing to show mercy and we are turning away from God and our neighbor. Each time we see starvation but refuse to fast and feed the hungry, we are refusing to show mercy and turning away from God and our neighbor. Each time we pass a homeless person and refuse to give alms, we are refusing to show mercy and turning away from God and our neighbor. Whenever we avoid an occasion to alleviate suffering we are prolonging hardship and thereby causing suffering. In the end, we are misusing our free will to hurt rather than help. As a substitute for giving praise to God and showing charity to our neighbor, we are turning away from both and preferring sin to virtue.
The Garden of Glory
We humans began life in a garden and our salvation, our new life, was first made known to us in a garden. The sepulcher, which held the dead body of Jesus, was located in a garden. Three days after the crucifixion and burial, Mary Magdalen was so upset by his empty tomb that she mistook Christ for the gardener. In her joy at finally recognizing him, Magdalen desperately clung to the risen Lord and refused to let go. Christ gently reminded her, and us, that there is still much to be done in the garden of our world before we can ascend to the garden in paradise. Through our faith, our good works and our baptism into Christ's passion, death, resurrection and ascension, we have the potential to return to Eden. We can become fruitful and multiply the mercy God has shown to us by showing mercy to others. Baptism is God's Holy Spirit of living water bubbling up within us, as Jesus promised the woman at the well, to quench our thirst for righteousness. Our purpose on Earth is to transform our hardened hearts into natural hearts longing for that heavenly space which God desires for each of us. How can we bring about this transformation?
Our Lenten Garden
We can prepare for our space in heaven by examining our space on earth. How orderly are we? What does our space look like? Is the space where we live and work very cluttered? Lent is a wonderful time to get organized. To tidy up our home and our workspace, we can begin by examining the state of our hearts and our souls. How readily do we receive God and others? Are the different gardens of our lives strewn with shriveled up leaves that are dying because we have separated ourselves from the true, life-giving vine? Do we ignore the expiration date of canned goods in our cupboards until we are forced to toss this sustenance into the garbage while the shelves of food pantries for the poor become barren? Have we accrued so much furniture and clothing that we need stackable bins to store our excess while the aisles at the St. Vincent de Paul stores fall empty?
Like any seasoned grower, every Christian knows there are plagues of pests threatening to prevent the growth of our attempts to be kind and compassionate. Temptations to prolong the disobedience of our progenitors towards God abound. Lent is a time to rid our gardens-our homes, our workspaces, our hearts and our souls-of those allures that exclude God and shun others. The cultivating tools we need are easily available. They are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. All we have to do is put them into practice. Then our garden of Gethsemane will become a renewed garden of Eden. Our garden of Covenant will become a garden of Glory toward God and a welcoming haven for all.
For Holy Homework
For the duration of Lent, let's place a symbol of our interior garden, like a flower, in our kitchen and at our workspace. Each morning when we see this reminder we can ask ourselves: What can I do today to de-clutter my house, my heart and my soul so that all of my gardens are properly prepared to receive my struggling neighbor and my risen Lord this Easter?
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