Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 26, 2001
Life outside the Garden
Archbishop Fulton Sheen put it succinctly: "There are only two philosophies of life. One is first the feast, then the hangover; the other, first the fast and then the feast."
Even in the Garden of Eden there was a twinge of the need for restraint. Everything was available to Adam and Eve, everything except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had the feast, but just a bit of the fast so they would know that God is the source of all goodness.
But Adam and Eve wanted it all. They ate the fruit and the downward spiral began. The life of the woman was ruptured to the point that women would now experience pain in childbirth and domination by their husbands. The nature of man was now disturbed to the point that men would have to work the land for food, a land full of thorns and thistles.
The spiral continued. Abel kept sheep, but Cain tilled the soil. Not satisfied with what God had provided, Cain wanted to create his own destiny. When the brothers made their offering to God, Abel's was acceptable, Cain's was not. So in jealousy, Cain killed Abel.
Cain then fathered a son, Enoch, who built a city, thus turning further away from God's creation. Enoch's descendants furthered the alienation. They built tents to facilitate a nomadic lifestyle, made tools of bronze and iron, and created music. We had civilization, but it was a society that consciously chose to be less dependent on God.
What is sin in this account? Sin is domination. It is the human attempt to dominate God, the male domination of women and the human effort to conquer nature, rather than to be its steward.
It was Jesus who said, "I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . . Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:22-23, 32).
Lent is the time to put aside worry, to put aside our efforts to conquer and our desire to get the most for ourselves. The traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving were not meant as punishments; they are to be steps taken further into the kingdom that God is pleased to give to us. They help us to leave behind the life of self-seeking; they open our hearts to the fullness of the life in the Holy Spirit.
Since that first sin, humanity has striven to live by the way of first the feast and then the hangover. And hangover it is even if we do not recognize it as such. For the goods of the earth, which we so eagerly strive to possess for ourselves, do not bring happiness, only despair. And when whole societies gobble up non-renewable resources and hoard the wealth while others are excluded, the consequences are felt most immediately by those who are left out.
It took the Son of God to set us free by his atoning death on the cross. Jesus clearly showed us the way of the fast followed by the feast: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . . Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6:20, 24). Jesus set us free, but we must still choose to follow him.
There were some radical followers, like St. Francis and St. Clare, who took all this literally. They could see that war is rooted in wealth and possessions. But their radicalness does not let the rest of us off the hook. Rather, it challenges us to do something even more difficult - to have the possessions we need, but not to be attached to them. To be grateful for what we have, but to see ourselves as stewards for that which, ultimately, does not belong to us.
This is not just a pious attitude, but an attitude that must lead to action - sharing with the poor, voluntary fasting, openness to the will of God. We cannot pretend that we are in Eden, but we can concretely work to implement God's plan - "a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:10). Lent is a special time we have been given to strengthen our resolve to bring that plan to fruition.
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