“The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.”
“But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.”
Genesis 2:16-17; 3:4-5
“I believe that my position on choice is one that is consistent with my Catholic upbringing, which said that every person has a free will and has the responsibility to live their own lives in a way that they would have to account for in the end.”
As we enter into the Lenten season we look ahead to the sacrificial gift of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We are called to remember that it was our sins that made the cross necessary. We look back to the Garden and the Original Sin of our first parents and we can see that not much has changed. It is part of the human condition that we want to be in charge, we want to decide for ourselves how to live, we want to distinguish between good and evil on our own.
I used the quote above from Nancy Pelosi not to specifically criticize her—she’s almost too easy of a target—but to demonstrate a mindset that is not too unlike how many people feel about the moral or religious choices they make. Nancy has convinced herself that she has the power to be the ultimate judge of truth for herself. Have you ever done that? Maybe not on something as morally grave as abortion, but have you thought this way about other areas of your life?
I know I have. I think we all have. In reality, I think it’s the only way we’re able to sin so easily. Whether it has become a convenient lie that has deeply blinded us or a passing rationalization we make clever use of; we convince ourselves that doing what we want is the right thing. I left the Catholic Church in 1997 because I wanted to “do the stuff” of ministry and was frustrated by resistance I had met within my parish and the school where I was teaching religion. I allowed myself to buy into the lie that I could decide my path, rather than humbly submit to God’s way and timing.
Of course we live in a culture that praises this behavior. In fact, “do what feels good” is one of the only moral imperatives our society actively praises and pursues. This desire is so deeply ingrained in our fallen nature that we are helpless in ourselves to root it out. We can cooperate with God’s grace to put to death this desire to be gods, and by God’s grace, if we are successful our reward will be our divination, becoming like God by partaking in the life of God.
During Lent we hear the emphasis of prayer, fasting and charity. Each of these calls us out of ourselves and makes us work at denying our desires to decide what we want to do. When these are combined with the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience as a way of life we begin to imitate the very life of Christ. Truly it is obedience that is at the heart of all of these wonderful gifts of spiritual growth. Jesus demonstrated perfect obedience throughout his life, and St. Paul calls us to “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus…he humbled himself”.
As we learn to die to ourselves this Lenten season may we learn the value and way of true obedience rooted in humility. Let’s learn the lesson from the Garden; that we are not gods and are not wise enough to discern good and evil on our own. Let us learn to trust that God has given us the means to know his will and how to follow him through Divine Revelation and the Magisterium of the Church. Surrendering our wills to God is not easy or comfortable. More often than not it will require that we die. It will lead to the cross, but ultimately it will not end there. Obedience and faithfulness, even when we can’t fully understand (that’s faith isn’t it?) will be rewarded with new life. When we do fall, we should not despair but repent because God is fully capable of raising us up again.