In the Garden of Eden, as all Christians know, Adam and Eve brought the curse of death upon all mankind by eating the fruit from the tree forbidden by God—the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree was in the center of the garden, was beautiful to look at, and produced fruit that appeared desirable. But God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit of this tree, they would die. And the devil, in his cunning, tempted Eve to eat this fruit by saying, “What is this talk of death? God knows well that as soon as you eat this fruit your eyes will be opened, and you yourselves will be like gods, knowing good and evil.” So, Adam and Eve ate the fruit and immediately became aware of their sin, and as God had warned, their punishment was indeed death.
But there was a second tree in the garden that is little discussed. After failing to resist the temptation from the serpent, Adam and Eve received the curses brought about by their sinful deeds and God banished them from the garden with good reason.
Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever? The LORD God therefore banished him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken. He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the Garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
Had Adam and Eve consumed the fruit of the tree of life while cut off from the life of grace, they would have been eternally confirmed in their miserable state, never to see the face of God in heaven.
As we spend this Holy Week in contemplation and preparation for the crucifixion and death of Our Blessed Lord, we would do well to consider how the tree of death and the tree of life set the stage and find completion in the passion and death of Jesus.
Our Lord’s passion begins in a garden, just as our first parent’s lives began in a garden. And just as our first parents were forced from their garden, Our Blessed Lord is taken by force from His. But most striking in this greatest of all dramas is the means by which Our Lord broke the curse of death.
After He was mercilessly mocked, beaten, scourged, and crowned with thorns, Our Lord was forced to pick up a heavy dead log and carry it to the top of a hill called Golgotha. This dead log made present for Our Lord the weight of all the sins of every single individual who ever lived, was living, and will ever live. But even more striking is that Our Lord chose this method of execution for Himself. Why a crucifixion? Why allow Himself to be nailed to a dead tree?
The reason is that the crucifixion itself is a transformation from death to life. The tree of death in the Garden of Eden is the means of Our Lord’s death, too. However, as He was nailed to the tree of death, Our Lord grafted Himself to its dead bark. His precious blood was soaked up by the tree’s dead and parched fibers, becoming the tree’s new sap. In a supreme act of pain and humiliation, Our Lord, grafted onto the tree of death, was lifted up and planted into the ground. And as Our Lord breathed out His spirit, this tree of death was transformed into the new tree of life, and its fruit is the body and blood of Our Lord.
Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden in order to prevent them from being eternally confirmed in their sins by eating the fruit of the tree of life. Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, through the greatest act of love and mercy in all of human history, made Himself into a new tree of life, breaking the curse of death so that we may again live an eternal life with God.
The echoes of the expulsion from Eden are recalled by St. Paul, who said:
If anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, he will be held to account for the Lord’s body and blood. A man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord’s body for what it is. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)
Adam or Eve would have obtained eternal life separate from God had they eaten the fruit of the tree of life after they had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is the very definition of damnation. Similarly, every mortal sin cuts us off from the life of grace, and to receive the Holy Eucharist in such a state is to “eat and drink damnation to himself.”
The Catholic Church, in her Code of Canon Law, expresses this in two places: Canons 915 and 916. Canon 915 expressly forbids the distribution of Holy Communion to those who are excommunicated, under interdict, or who are obstinately persisting in grave, manifest sin. Canon 916 says that the communicant must examine his own conscience to be certain that he is not in a state of mortal sin before receiving Holy Communion.
May God have mercy on those “ardent practicing Catholics,” peddling in the evils of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and homosexuality, who are even now eating the fruit of the tree of life while in their current state of misery.
Michael Hichborn is director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project.