O Happy Fault!
“The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Gen 3:6). How easily this tragic story becomes just that to us—a tragic story—in the Bible or in a sermon, but not recognized in our own personal history. Yet it is our story, often re-enacted in our personal lives.
Each Easter Vigil we hear the striking words of the Exsultet, “O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, which won for us so great a Redeemer,” as we celebrate our Redeemer’s decisive victory over sin and death. This victory is real for us, because original sin is real for us, too; and we have all felt the effects of both.
We live simultaneously in the already and not yet. Jesus already has redeemed us once and for all, yet St. Paul instructs us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 3:13). Even though Christ has won the victory over sin and death, we are still in the fight as the fruits of Christ’s redemptive act must be realized in us. The threefold enticement that the serpent used against Eve in the garden continues to be a favorite trick of his. The temptation today does not come in the form of fruit from a tree but in the seemingly countless ways that St. John himself warns us: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn 2:15-16).
Eve sees that the tree is “good for food”—indicative of a sensual lust and a search for goodness, but outside of God. She sees it is “pleasing to the eyes”—an enticement for the eyes, to a beauty also outside of God. Eve sees that the tree is “desirable for gaining wisdom”—a pretentious clutching for truth outside of God. Eve doubts and then fully denies that God, who is the Goodness, Truth and Beauty she desires, is already giving himself to her. She seeks these three apart from God, and in doing so with her husband, they grasp to “become like gods”, instead of receiving the eternal gift of Self that God was giving them in the garden.