Abbot Anderson, Paradise Lost, pt 2

Abbot Anderson, Paradise Lost, pt 2
A Lenten Meditation
Part 2
Abbot Philip Anderson, OSB
Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery 
March 12 2011
Houston, Tx
The Promise We Gained
The story thus far is quite bleak.  There is no looking back to an earthly Paradise that is lost to us, and the future appears ever-more menacing.  However, a ray of light does enlighten this dismal landscape where lives fallen Man, that is to say each one of us.  Before showing Adam and Eve, as it were, “the way to the door” of Eden, the Lord God spoke these most remarkable words that are translated with interesting variations, but which I will give here according to the Douay-Rheims version that is familiar to many.
And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.  I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. (Gen. 3:14-15)
The mysterious promise contained in this text sometimes referred to as the Protoevangilium–as it outlines the first contours of the Good News of Salvation–determines, in fact, the History of the world from the moment our first parents set their feet outside the original Paradise until the end of time.  The way I would illustrate this point is by taking an example from the world of music.
Perhaps some of you have sung Gregorian chant.  A major piece of the chant, let us say a Gradual, begins typically somewhere in the lower melodic rang, or slightly higher, then moves by stages (often corresponding to important notes of the particular mode it is written in) toward one or several summits that habitually coincide with important words of the sacred text.  From that summit the melody then moves progressively—still with little “ups” and “downs”, not uniformly– toward the tonic note at the base of the melody where the melody comes to its rest, its peace. 
The Divine and divinely dramatic picture of human History that we find traced in this majestic tapestry which is Holy Scripture suggests something similar, albeit on a scale incomparably greater than any piece of Gregorian chant.  From the very beginnings related in the book of Genesis, this History of mankind and of Salvation tends by the various “ups” and “downs” of the story of the Chosen People and the others towards the fulfillment of the Promise made in the Protoevangelium, in what Saint Paul refers to as the “fullness of time”, when Christ, the promised Messiah appears in the world. From that summit of the Song, that is to say of the history of the world we sing about in so many of the great pieces of sacred music, the story works its way toward the end of the world, when all Creation will be, once again, at rest and at peace.
It has not escaped the more enlightened minds of the Christian kind, those of the Fathers and great Doctors of the Church in particular, that something very marvelous occurs here.  Whereas Adam and Eve lost so much in sinning, whereas their sin led to their banishment from Paradise and the disruption of the whole harmony of Creation, God, in his infinite Wisdom, has found a means of remedying the fault that brings to us an even better situation that what would have existed if Adam and Eve had never sinned.  This is marvelously summed up in the Exsultet chant (Praeconium Paschale) that is part of the liturgy of the Paschal Vigil (in the old liturgy and in the new).  In one of the better-known passages of this sublime liturgical poem Holy Mother Church says this extraordinary thing:
O felix culpa…O happy fault [original sin, you see], that merited such and so great a Redeemer!
The expression, O felix culpa is fairly well know among the older generations of Catholics, but even those who are familiar with this liturgical masterpiece fail perhaps to seize all the wealth of meaning.

The idea is that God can prevent their being any evil in the world; He could have prevented the sin of Adam and Eve.  If He did permit this tragedy to occur, it could only be for some good purpose; He could only permit such a thing, very bad in itself, in order to bring about, in the end, a good that exceeds the evil done.  Now what greater good, one might wonder, could come from the sin that brought death and evil into our world, with all the disastrous consequences?  The answer here—as much as we can understand such deep things– is that had Adam and Eve not sinned, the Son of God-made-man would not have been born in Bethlehem: Christ, as least as we know Him, would not have come into the world.  In permitting Man to sin, God opened the History of the world to the most sublime adventure, the most beautiful story that ever could be, the story of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of His redemptive sacrifice on the Cross.  In the end the cure is so great that it dwarfs the whole history of evil and the princedom of Satan.

Conclusion on the history and mystery of an exclusion (Paradise Lost)

 In his great poem The Divine Comedy (originally entitled, simply, The Comedy, the word “comedy” having here a different sense than what we are used to: a play that has a favorable ending), Dante represents the world as a globe, where the inhabited regions of land-mass are situated in the northern hemisphere, whereas the southern hemisphere is entirely composed of ocean, save at one point, one island.  On that island rises the mountain of Purgatory, where God’s holy angel brings the souls of the faithful departed (those who do not have to descend into Hell), in order that they might purge themselves of the debt they still owe in terms of punishment for sin, before they can be admitted into Heaven and into the beatific vision of God.
At the summit of this holy mountain of Purgatory—interestingly enough—is found the earthly Paradise from which Adam and Eve were exiled after their sin.  All of this is symbolic, of course, not to be taken literally, and quite enthralling once we understand how to read it as a powerful poetic illustration of the dogma of Purgatory.  Dante thus envisages the necessary process of purification of souls as a painful climb up the slopes of this mountain, until they reach the earthly Paradise that was lost in the beginning and are lifted from there up into the everlasting and perfect Paradise in Heaven, as represented in the book of Revelation, in the Apocalypse. 
The process of our moral purification here below, before we depart for the life hereafter, can be pictured in similar fashion, as a kind of climb.  This is our life during Lent: a struggle against our weaknesses, a strenuous but happy climb toward better things. 
So we see that, even if there is something terribly wrong in the world—in our contemporary American society, but also in others that have come before—all is not lost.  We have lost Paradise, but not everything, not our free-will (as Luther would have it), not the possibility of doing penance and straightening out our lives—or rather allowing Divine grace to do so for us, with our cooperation.  Above all, as baptized Christians, we have a most precious inheritance of supernatural life, including that precious light along the way, shining Hope.  We also learn little by little, in this valley of tears and struggles, to appreciate that incomparable source of Hope which is Divine Mercy.  
If soon-to-be-blessed Pope is remembered for many things, it seems likely that the foremost of his accomplishments—in which his life is ed to that other Polish Saint, Faustina Kowalska—will have been his role in instituting the Feast of Divine Mercy, upon which day he is to be beatified.  Believing in Divine Mercy is perhaps the very hardest thing for many human beings, especially adults, but in the face of the incalculable weight of hatred and cruelty that marked the twentieth century and continues to mark our own, brave new millennium, there is surely nothing Man needs more urgently along with his daily bread than this balm that cures the wounds of his heart.  It is Divine Mercy that places limits on the expansion of evil, both in the world at large and in our own hearts.  It is Divine Mercy that most effectively makes us capable of living again in Paradise.  This is also how Saint Benedict views the universe.


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