In Part 1, we saw that the Fall brought conflict, and conflict brought suffering. Humanity was expelled from Eden, from Paradise, and we’ve suffered ever since. Eliminate conflict and we eliminate suffering. What is the opposite of conflict? What is that state of affairs where conflict does not exist? It’s called peace. What we crave more than anything else is peace: peace with other people, peace with the world around us, peace within ourselves. Imagine it – no more anxiety, no more stress, no more worries, no troubles of any kind. How do we find such peace? Through the Prince of Peace, of course.
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (Jn 14:27)
We noted in Part 1 that politics and economics are secular approaches to resolving societal conflicts. Humans have applied a variety of such natural solutions, but to no avail. They can have limited success, but never have they completely resolved all conflict, all suffering. They can’t, because they do not resolve the root cause, which is Original Sin. You may have your favorite political scheme or economic theory, but at best you can only say it’s not as bad as the other ones. No one can honestly say they have a complete solution.
33 I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33)
In Christ we have the complete solution, for the simple reason that He resolved the root cause: Original Sin. In union with Him, with the Holy Trinity, we can have peace. In Him, we can enjoy Paradise once again. And we can enjoy this here and now, today.
43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Lk 23:43)
You are probably thinking that Christians live lives of conflict and suffering, same as non-Christians. Where is this peace? Where is the return to Eden? Is it just heaven after we die? Do I have to suffer through this life and then receive my reward after death? That does seem to be the usual idea of most Christians. But it is only half true. We can experience Paradise in this world, in this life. It’s not easy and not many achieve it, but only because not many try.
To understand this, let’s admit something about ourselves: we care more about our lives in this physical world than we do about our lives in the spiritual world. We don’t spend much time living according to the spirit, save when we celebrate Sunday Mass, or the moments of daily prayer. If we lived the kind of spiritual life we wished we lived, then we could see this Paradise, for it is a spiritual Paradise. We enter it through baptism. We live in it when we partake of the Sacraments, when we pray, when we choose others over self. We recognize it as the Church – not the institution or the building we go to on Sundays or the clerics & religious; it is the Mystical Body of all believers, united in Christ. The Church is really and truly a mystical thing. This is our new Paradise and our freedom from conflict and suffering.
In another essay, we learned about our growth in the spiritual life. It’s a process, a lifelong journey. If I imagine, though, that I had completed the process - that I lived in the perfect, unitive state – then I would see all things differently than I do now. I would not see other people as things to overcome, but as persons to love, to whom I only want to give of myself, humbly subjecting myself to everyone I meet. No conflict there. I would not see the world around me as a place of potential pain, nor would I seek out many things to alleviate the pains; I would see it as God’s wonderful creation and I would welcome every difficulty, every need, every suffering as a joy which further tears down my self-love, that terrible roadblock keeping me from my Beloved. No conflict there either. Finally, I would not see the conflict between my spiritual nature and my physical nature, because my spiritual nature would be in control.
This is the new Paradise of Christ. It is fundamentally a spiritual paradise, but it can have its effects in the here and now if we allow ourselves to walk that path. Sometimes, we experience small glimpses of this, for example when we choose to turn the other cheek, or when we help those in need, or when we offer up our small daily crosses, or when we turn to the Father in prayer for comfort and aid. We know, more than these glimpses, though, that some Christians have entered into this new Paradise, have enjoyed it in its fulness and joy:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Cor 12:2-4)
This is an example of a real mystical experience, an experience that repeated itself in so many saints over the centuries. They experienced the new Paradise before death. We all know we will experience Paradise – heaven – after death; but we should also know that it is possible here and now.
It begins with Baptism, our “initiation” into the spiritual life.
1 Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)
The New Jerusalem of Revelation is an image of the Church; its central characteristic is baptismal grace, flowing from God. The tree of life, of eternal life, watered by baptism, feeds us with its twelve-fold fruit (see another essay on the number 12 as symbolic of “God-in-this-world”). The “healing of nations” is a phrase which means peace, the absence of war, the absence of conflict.
3 There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; 4 they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. 5 And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev 22:3-5)
After baptism removes the curse of Adam, we experience God directly in our souls as if He is enthroned in our very souls. If we choose to seek Him through grace, then we will find Him, we will see His face. His name – the family name of the Holy Trinity – will always be in our minds (and always called upon in our sacraments and liturgy). The darkness of conflict and suffering will end and we shall see the Uncreated Light (to use the Orthodox phrase). This is the spiritual life, which is a journey to Paradise. It’s not necessarily easy and can take a lifetime; it is, however, the way of Christ and once achieved, the root cause of Original Sin is corrected, conflict eliminated, and the peace of eternity enjoyed.