The Way of Beauty 'Crowned with Glory and Honor' (Ps 8:1)

Through their fateful decision, our first parents lost their original innocence, abdicated their preternatural bliss, and incurred exile from the garden. Seduced by Satan’s lie, they grasped at what belonged to God alone. They proposed to step into the place of God.  In a flash, harmony shattered into cacophony, and order into disarray.  Of this tragedy, St. Paul writes: “Through one man, sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and this death has passed into all men because all have sinned in Adam” (Rom 5:12). Sin’s rancid odor requires cleansing that brings the fragrance of holiness.  In God’s mercy, the right purpose and order of creation would be re-established: God as creator, man and woman as creatures.
If the story of humanity is a love story or the failure of love, then all theology, in one way or another, probes this truth in terms of sins against love.  Modern skepticism has declared sin to be a medieval notion. In fact, the word sin is in danger of extinction.  This so-called logic goes as follows: ‘of course, men and women make mistakes, or mistakes are made, but there is no culpability, no sin.  We are victims of circumstances incapable of  being  held responsible for our choices and actions.’ Such is the non-judgmental culture, rife with relativism.   
Despite attempts to banish sin from the collective consciousness, it remains a firmly-held belief. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves,” writes the Beloved Disciple (1Jn 1:8).  Sin disrupts our relationship with God breaking  the bond that exists between creator and creature.  Today, sin is institutional, structural, and personal.  We see it in warring nations, in the battle of the rich and greedy over the poor and weak, in heart-breaking starvation in one part of the world and unbridled affluence in another, and in the killing of developing infants in their mothers’ wombs. Sin brutally expresses humanity’s inhumanity on others.  If we think about it, sin is about the will to power, the will to dominate others.  Because of the first sin, the Word of God assumed the condition of a creature to bear the guilt of the world in order to restore the fallen Bride to divine friendship and restore her original beauty. 

The Image of the Garden and Bearing Fruit
The Psalmist uses the image of a garden to describe those who live in the well-being of beauty, truth, and goodness.  The just are fruitful in all they do because, at heart, they remain rooted in the Lord:

The just will flourish like the palm-tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar.  Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just (Ps 92:12-15). . . . The just are like trees planted near streams; they bear fruit in season and their leaves never wither.  All they do prospers (Ps 1:3-4).

Despite the infidelity of the Israelites, to the Lord, they remained “the garden of delight”  (Is 5:7).  Even after God makes the Jews exceedingly beautiful, they are called “God’s faithless bride” (Ez 16:14).  All the while, Yahweh’s fidelity to them remains constant.

The Christian scriptures are replete with images of fruitfulness.  In the mid-east, the fig, for example, is one of the healthiest and most delicious of all fruits, symbolizing divine blessing and abundance.  The barren fig tree has nothing to offer but misfortune. Jesus’ message is simple: we are expected to bear fruit in the garden, a metaphor for God’s kingdom.  

Bearing fruit means using our gifts to build a better world, beginning with the present. Not tomorrow, but now. Bearing fruit resembles a tree watered by running streams.  To paraphrase Jesus’ reminder: look at the fruit, and you will know whether or not it is sound (Mt 4:16).  Decayed leaves and fruit are cut down and thrown away.  The parable of the talents is a cautionary tale for those who would waste even one talent.  The man who buried his one talent was banished from his master’s household.  Where there is no fruit, there is no life (Mt 7:15-20).  The blessed fruit of Mary’s womb was the life of the world (Lk 1:42).  If the grain of wheat dies, it will bear much fruit, and if “they abide in me and I in them, they bear much fruit” (Jn 12:24; 15:5).  Then the Master will say: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the court of the Lord” (Lk 19:17).

The Fruits of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the giver of life, the source of fruitfulness, the lifeblood and soul of the vine.  The Spirit guarantees a new fruitfulness in the New Pentecost of the Church.  As the branch derives life within the vine, so too, those who abide in Christ.  This familiar prediction echoes throughout the ages: “I have come that they may have life, and life in abundance” (Jn 10:10).  The overall secret to fruitfulness lies in living a life of love, expressed in beauty, truth, and goodness.  The Good Samaritan not only allowed himself to be inconvenienced for the sake of an outsider; he also spent extravagantly for his neighbor. To love as Jesus did is the distinguishing mark of Christian discipleship (Jn 14:6). In fact, a person who lives in God, as the branch in the vine, will perform not only the same works as he “but will do even greater ones” (Jn 14:12).  “May we bear fruit in the beauty of holiness, like a tree watered by running streams” (Office of Readings for Sunday, Week 1, Liturgy of the Hours.) 

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