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Enter the Serpent


“Still anyone who trusts a serpent deserves its bite. The wise see a creature for what it is, not what it says it may be.” ~ Alice Hoffman

As is so often the case, we the flawed denizens of the human race simply can’t stand prosperity. The moment we achieve that idyllic state of serenity and bliss, it is never, it would seem, quite enough. If it’s not our insatiable thirst for the bigger, better deal, something always transpires or someone inevitably arrives to upset the proverbial apple cart. And with regard to today’s 1st Reading (Genesis 3:1-8), our idiomatic apple cliche is particularly appropriate, for it is today that we are introduced to the most cunning of all the animals (Gen 3:1). Today we stare into the lurid and bloodless eyes of the serpent, Satan himself.

Comedian Steven Wright, known for his sublime wit and deadpan delivery, once said “You can’t have it all..... where would you put it?” Adam and Eve had it all. Yet it wasn’t enough. The cunning serpent, in appealing to their pride, their vanity and quite frankly their paranoia (Genesis 3:4-5) swindled them and the entire human race out of paradise.

Yet what struck me today at Mass was the Psalm (32) chosen to immediately follow this sad tale of paradise lost: “Blessed are those whose sins are forgiven.” Despite Adam and Eve’s blatant act of disobedience, a disobedience that we emulate, although fruit is not typically involved, each and every time we sin. Ours is a God that forgives us every time we turn to him in repentance. And repent we must, for Jesus is counting on us to leave sin behind so as to instead focus on the work he has carved out for us, the good we can and must do for those he has purposefully and meticulously placed in our lives

Adam and Eve’s misguided foray into the filth and grime of sin was merely the opening shot across the bow so to speak. In the days ahead we will read of Cain and Abel, and of course with Ash Wednesday on the very near horizon, we will begin our journey with Jesus that will take us through the desert and culminate in his savage death on a tree.

As I reflect upon the Incarnation in these final days before the beginning of Lent, I’m struck by the words of one of my favorite Saints, the great Bishop and Doctor of our Church Saint Hilary, who said of this seminal event “For He took upon Him the flesh in which we have sinned that by wearing our flesh He might forgive sins; a flesh which He shares with us by wearing it, not by sinning in it. He blotted out through death the sentence of death, that by a new creation of our race in Himself He might sweep away the penalty appointed by the former Law. He let them nail Him to the cross that He might nail to the curse of the cross and abolish all the curses to which the world is condemned.” It’s difficult to conjure up a like comparison to this idea, that a being as mighty and powerful as God, the creator of the Universe, would take flesh and die in brutal fashion in order to save man. It would be like asking a man to die for all slugs. Who would do that? No one would do that. God did that.

“We were ensnared by the wisdom of the serpent; we are set free by the foolishness of God.” These are the words of the great Saint Augustine, brilliant when viewed in the proper context and in light of Augustine’s observations of the Incarnation which he said was “unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Augustine goes on to explain that “just as the former was called wisdom, but was in reality the folly of those who despised God, so the latter is called foolishness, but is true wisdom in those who overcome the devil. We used our immortality so badly as to incur the penalty of death: Christ used His mortality so well as to restore us to life. The disease was brought in through a woman’s corrupted soul: the remedy came through a woman’s virgin body.”

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The tragedy of sin continues to strafe and plague our world. It will do so until Jesus returns. But we know that sin and death have no power over a baptized child of God. I leave you with the words of Saint Faustina, who shared this message from our Lord in her now famous diary Divine Mercy In My Soul:

“Urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls - no one have I excluded!“ (1182). .

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