Interior Landscaping

Rare is the person who cannot appreciate the beauty of nature, especially in its wild, untouched forms and settings.  It is blindness when the beauty of a creature cannot be appreciated.  Such beauty exists in the flower il-flower, the forest, the mountain, the stream, and the animal.  There is the harsh beauty of the desert, and, I suppose, of the arctic as well.  Nature’s gifts of beauty are to be found in all climates, temperate and tropical.  Just step outside, open your eyes and marvel at the creation around you!

There is also a “natural” beauty that is created by human endeavor.  An idea or vision can transform the natural landscape of creation into works of art.   Here, we have the cultivation of something previously barren, or wild, into something habitable and enjoyable, and equally pleasing to the senses.

I saw all of this around me as I and my wife spent our most recent vacation at a resort, Pueblo Bonito at Emerald Bay, in Mazatlan, Mexico.  The land prior to its transformation must have consisted of the same low lying deciduous trees, scrub, and brush that are found throughout this area of Sinaloa.  Vision, time, money, and much labor transformed these many acres into an architectural and landscaped paradise.  il-pool il-buildingThe pools are works of art .  The architecture is splendid in its Spanish colonial style .  The fountains spill and flow with delight .  The sounds of the Pacific Ocean bring music and rhythm to the ear.  All works together in beauty and harmony for the resort’s intended purpose:  to refresh and restore all who vacation il-fountain-1

However, the greatest beauty is to be found in the human.  I don’t refer just to physical appearance (though the human form is wonderful), because we all have met the handsome man who is a selfish rogue and liar, and the beautiful woman who has nothing but nasty deformity of character within her.  Also, human personalities vary as they develop from birth and by nurture:  some are naturally cheery and generous.  Others do not rank so high on these scales.

So, the soul is far too often a wild and barren landscape that must be transformed.  Anyone can improve self, correct faults, and cultivate virtues.  But, there is always something lacking in the final product that occurs with human self-help projects.  What is needed is the divine touch.  When we look to the lives of the saints we see how God’s work transforms the soul into what the Creator intends for his human creatures — his image bearers — to be a beautiful life inhabited by the presence of God.  Any biography of any given saint will be filled with accounts of the struggles and hardships she or he encountered.  In all these biographies there is one common element:  the saints embraced the struggles, difficulties, challenges, and hardships they encountered.  The trials were seen not as obstacles to be shunned and avoided, but as gifts from God that were to be embraced and treasured as such.  The saints lived eucharistically:  they gave thanks to our Lord for them (1 Thes 5: 16 — 18), and cooperated with Christ and the Holy Spirit to work out their salvation (Phil 2: 12 — 13).

In such wild “landscapes” of struggle and challenge the saint saw its potential for transformation — and, more importantly, to be transformed more completely into the Image of Christ by the difficulty presented and engaged.  In their struggles they gained their holiness in an imitation of Christ (Imitatio Christi).

The saints imitated Christ in multiple ways.  But none of them did it apart from the  sacramental life of the Church, and specifically, the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist has its source in the actions of Jesus in the Last Supper.  Let’s examine his actions as they are described in the Gospel of St. Mark:

And while they were eating, after he taking bread, he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, this is my body.”  And after taking the cup and giving thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it.  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the Covenant which is being poured out in behalf of many[1] (Mark 14: 22 — 24).

Mystical Supper

Mystical Supper

At the Last Supper, Jesus was entering the final hours of his life on earth.  He was about to enter into betrayal, mockery, unimaginable pain, and then death.  His actions in the Upper room did not just symbolically prefigure the events of his crucifixion, his actions set those events in motion.  Without his initiation of the Eucharist, nothing would have followed.  He foretold his death to his disciples and embraced it, because by it humanity and creation would be freed from bondage to sin, death, darkness, and alienation, and given new and eternal life.
Yet, in his actions which initiated the Eucharist, which in turn initiated his suffering and death, he gave blessing and thanks.  Then bread became his Body which would be broken and distributed, and wine his Blood which would be poured out and consumed.  He entered decidedly into the Crucifixion because he knew he would have victory over death, and knew glorified, eternal life would await him in his Resurrection from the dead, which in turn is extended all humanity and to the entirety of creation.

The saints followed and lived out the example of Christ.  Such imitation of Christ led them to an interior death, which led them to renewed life in Christ.  The saints continued in this ongoing cycle of interior death and rebirth.  There was the removal of interior scrub and brush by the embracing of the pain and difficulty awaiting them.  The removal of the corruption in turn led to transformation — a beautiful interior landscape was constructed by the work of the Holy Trinity.

Our holy, elder brothers and sisters constantly took account of their interior landscape.  The saints’ lives are to be an inspiration for us.  Like them we are to enter into spiritual work to have the brush and scrub taken out, and have the beauty of Christ replacing it in our souls.  Like the work done to transform an ocean front wilderness into a place of beauty and refreshment, we are to labor with Christ and the Holy Spirit.  A soul indwelled and transformed by God gives refreshment to all whom we minister as Christians.  St. Paul took account of the beauty found in the soul of his spiritual son Philemon, and his words conclude this posting:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ.  For I have derived much joy and comfort from you love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you (Philemon 4 – 7, emphasis added).

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

[1]  “…in behalf of many,” in Greek huper pollon, is an idiomatic expression with a semitic origin.  It is to be understood as “in behalf of all.”

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