Rev. Mr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Saturday of the 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Year I
February 13, 1999
Gen 3:9-24; Mk 8:1-10
The first reading presents to us the famous proto-evangelium. After the Fall, God prophecies and promises that there will be an offspring, born of Woman, who will ultimately strike at and defeat the serpent once and for all.
We meet that long-awaited, victorious offspring in today’s Gospel.
This offspring, however, had more on his agenda than merely crushing snakes under foot. His messianic mission was ultimately to reverse every curse we find in Genesis 3. When we examine this carefully, our hearts cannot but fill up with love and adoration for how great a redeemer we really have. We’ll look briefly at four of these reversals.
First, God promises Adam that only by toil and the sweat of his brow will he get bread to eat. The New Adam, as we see in the Gospel, tells all of the sons of Adam and Eve merely to sit down, not to sweat the situation at all, as he proceeds to feed several thousand on the basis of seven loaves, a few fish, and pretty powerful grace before meals.
Second, God promises that Eve will bring forth children in pain. In the Gospel, we see this answered by the presence of the fish, although this is not readily apparent. If you look at the ancient marble baptismal font at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, you will see that all over the basin there are little sculptures of fish. Fish were the ancient symbol for Christians. Peter and the other disciples were fishers of men, remember. The baptismal font is the womb of the New Eve, the New Adam’s Bride, the Church, and just as we see in the Gospel, the fish, the Sons and daughters of this New Mother of all the living, increase and multiply without pain. Whereas the First Eve was formed out of the First Adam’s side, the New Eve was formed out of the New Adam’s side, that pierced side which on the Cross gave out blood and water, which the Fathers of the Church interpreted as the birth of the Church and her sacraments.
This connects easily with the third reversal. God tells Eve in the Garden that Adam will be her master, that he will have dominion over her. This is reversed by the New Adam, who rather than exercising that dominion over his bride, decides to lay his life down for her out of love, so that she may be holy and without blemish, as Paul writes to the Ephesians. Dominance has been transformed into loving service.
Finally, God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden, so that they would not be allowed to take fruit from the tree of life, eat of it and live forever. But we have something unbelievable in store in the New Testament. As we read in the account of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish from John, Jesus, rather than allow us to get eternal life by eating from some tree, determined from all eternity that we would gain it by eating him. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” Jesus is the Tree of New Life, the Vine, that gives life to all of the branches.
O Felix culpa! O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam which gained for us such a great redeemer. The depth of the mystery of redemption is truly overwhelming.
But there’s one last thing to tackle from Genesis. Even before the Fall, God had acted in sight of what would come in Jesus. So say so many Fathers of the Church, so says, most recently, Pope John Paul II in his Catecheses on Creation in 1979-1981. They say that God the Father, in creating Adam and Eve to be indissolubly one flesh, had in mind the incarnation of the Lord and ultimately the union of the New Adam and the New Eve. And just as Adam and Eve became one flesh in the conjugal act of love, so the New Adam and the New Eve are called to become one flesh in their conjugal act of love.
What conjugal act of love? Well, we can learn alot from St. Peter’ Basilica and the other churches here in Rome. Ever wonder what the purpose of the Bernini’s baldachino is on top of the altar? Most people think it’s decorative, designed to call attention to the dome or heaven or the centrality of the spot on top of St. Peter’s relics. The true reason is none of these. The Latin word for baldachino is thalamus, and this word thalamus has one other meaning in the Latin language which infallibly clues us in to its purpose: marriage bed. The point is that the baldachino is meant to cover the matrimonial bed of the union of Christ with his bride, the Church. And that bed is the altar. We don’t have a baldachino here in this small but beautiful chapel, but the reality is the same. This is Christ and the Church’s conjugal bed. On this bed Christ and the Church, Christ and each one of us, truly become one flesh when we literally take the Lord inside of us at Holy Communion. Normal conjugal relations consummate the marriage covenant. These conjugal relations seal the New and Everlasting Covenant. Exsultet indeed!