Gardens of Paradise

Gardens of Paradise

When I was a child I lived in my own “Garden of Paradise.” Everything I wanted or needed was given to me by my parents. I am sure each one of you here knows the feeling – the security and protection of home, the unquestioned love of our parents, the freedom from want, and so forth. It is something most of us have experienced as little children.

But then came the time, and we’ve all shared it, when we were experienced life outside of our home, our “Garden of Eden,” when we knew fear and even came to know evil for the first time. The story of Adam and Even in Paradise and their leaving it, the story we heard last week in the Old Testament reading for the First Sunday of Lent, has been recapitulated in our own lives.

Let me share with you here some of the fears we probably experienced:

1 – The day mom or dad dropped us off at school for the first time.

2 – The day when another child did something or said something mean and hurtful to us, perhaps when we were laughed at or ridiculed.

3 – The time when we were caught doing something naughty, or caught telling a lie, or caught doing something else that was sinful.

4 – The moment when we made our first confession of sins.

5 – The time we first watched our mother or father weeping over the death of someone in our family, perhaps when a grandparent died.

6 – Our teenage fear of not being chosen, or of not being liked, or of not being popular.

7 – Our fears facing exams.

We all have our own personal memories of our first fears, or our first encounters with the fact that life is not fair. Let me suggest to you today that life upon leaving our Gardens of Paradise is a journey. It’s not a flight from bad things. They are inevitable. Life is more properly a journey toward good things, ultimately a journey toward God. Your life should be seen like that, and so should mine. Our spiritual lives, indeed the spiritual life of all God’s people, are like that. The life of Jesus was a journey beginning in His forty days in the desert and ending in Jerusalem- His journey through rejection and abandonment to the Cross, and from thence to the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost.

Last week Holy Mother Church put in front of us those magnificent readings dealing with Adam and Eve in the Garden at the beginning of human history, and Jesus Christ in the desert at the beginning of His public ministry. This week Holy Mother Church puts in front of us the journey Abraham, the Father of all believers, who is another beginning of God’s work after Adam’s fall. And she likewise puts in front of us Christ on top of Mount Tabor, a mountain that reminds us of Mt. Sinai. Godlike, Christ is bathed in incandescent light, transfigured in glory as He is about to begin His final journey to Jerusalem and His passion and death.

The response God expected from Abraham is the response God expects from us all, namely trust, a fulsome trust that encompasses faith, hope, obedience, and love of God as our caring and provident Father. God’s call to Abraham and Abraham’s response signals a reversal of our human rejection of God’s ways. Where Adam and Eve said “No” in disobedience, and out of fear that they might be missing out on something that life might offer them, Abraham said “Yes” to God in a tremendous act of obedience and trust, the very opposite of fear. Abraham and Sarah, in their grief over not having a child, find they are, in the sterility of their old age, going to have a child. And not only one child, but descendants without measure that will be born out of their faith and trust in God’s love for them.

Because they cast aside their fears, along with the doubts that are born of fear, God’s blessing is poured out not only on them but on the whole universe. A world caught up in the sterility of sin becomes fecund and pregnant, fruitful in the light and life of love, God’s love.

We, each one of us, are not unacquainted with fear. We fear for what might happen to our children, we fear the possibility of divorce, we fear we might discover cancer in our family, or AIDS, or Alzheimer’s disease. We fear that our company may downsize and cast us off in the process. We fear that our lives may not be of any significance to anyone in particular, and that our time here on earth will go unnoticed and unheeded because we have really not been needed for very much of anything at all. We are beset by many fears.

We have all been driven out of our own personal Gardens of Paradise and consequently we are all quite acquainted with fear. Into all of who we are and what we are God utters His unambiguous command: FEAR NOT! “Do not be afraid” is the constant and specific message of Jesus to each one of us. Do not be afraid, for underneath all that your humanity may cover and hide there is an incandescent lightness of being, an immortal soul that shines within us like sparkling crystal in the Light of the world. We should not hide our light under bushel baskets of fear, or timidity, or embarrassment. We should let it shine before others so that they might see the glory of God.

Our mission, then, is to peel away all that disfigures and disguises who we really are and what we are really made to be. Our mission is to dis-cover, to uncover, to reveal the transcendent selves within us that God made us to be. Our goal is to transfigure not only our own personal selves, but to transfigure all of humanity and reveal, in the bright luminous cloud of God’s love, that of which human beings are really made. In other words, in a surrounding culture that seeks to deny that men and women have souls, our task is to reveal and then set loose into our world the bright, shining souls of the “cloud of witnesses” who give testimony to the Christ of God, to God’s anointed one, who reveals to each and all just what it really means to be human.

“Fear not,” God says to you as He says to me. “Be not afraid, for I am with you.” And in Christ He is not only with us, He is within us. His Body has become one with ours. His Blood mingles with ours. He is with us no matter what, even when we are abandoned, even when we are in our own Gardens of Gethsemani, even when we hang upon our own personal crosses, and, yes, even when we die.

We are, you and I, each one of us on a journey begun by Abraham to a place unseen, to a land of promise, journeying in faith, in trust, in hope, and in love, knowing with the risen Christ that our Father has not forsaken us, nor will He ever forsake us, because in Christ our humanity, your humanity and mine, is transfigured in the incandescent and gloriously luminous love of God that has come to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord. [2nd Sunday of Lent- A]

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Written by
Fr Charles Irvin