WHAT a gift we have through the Sacrament of Baptism: the innocence of a soul is restored. And should we sin after that, the Sacrament of Penance restores that innocence again. God wants you and me to be innocent because He delights in the beauty of a pristine soul, re-made again in His image. Even the most hardened sinner, if they appeal to God’s mercy, are restored to a primordial beauty. One could say that in such a soul, God sees himself. Moreover, He delights in our innocence because He knows that is when we are most capable of joy.
So important was innocence to Jesus that He warned,
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come. (Matt 18:6-7)
When we speak of temptation, Satan’s intent is to cause you and me to lose our innocence, our purity of heart, without which we cannot see God. That, and it upsets one’s internal balance and peace, and then often, the peace of the world around us. We see the effects of the loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden in three ways.
When Adam and Eve ate fruit from the forbidden tree, Scripture says that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Gen 3:7 The first effect of lost innocence is the feeling of shame. It is an inescapable feeling common to the entire human race that one has done something contrary to their nature, contrary to Love, in whose image they are created.
Second, Adam and Eve experience fear, particularly, fear of God. “I heard you in the garden,” said Adam to the Lord, “but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid….” Gen 3:10
The third effect is to lay blame. “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.” Instead of owning up to their sins, they began to excuse them away…. And thus begins a cycle of shame, fear, and blaming that, if unrepented, can produce a host of spiritual and even physical illnesses and division upon division—the fruits of lost innocence.
The question is, how do we remain innocent in a world that constantly exposes us to evil nearly everywhere we turn? The answer lies in the example of Jesus. His three years of ministry were spent nearly entirely in the presence of sinners. Since He dined with the riff-raff, exchanged words with adulterers, and regularly encountered the demon-infested… how did Jesus remain innocent?
The answer is that He constantly remained in communion with the Father, as an example for us:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:9-10)
This “abiding” is essentially prayer manifest in fidelity to the Father’s will. It was precisely through this abiding in the Father that Jesus was able to see, with the Father’s love, past the murderous, lustful, and greedy heart to the state of innocence and beauty that a soul had the potential to become through faith in Him. It is how He was able to cry out, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 So too, if we abide in the Father, not only will we find the strength to resist temptation, but we will find the capacity to love through His eyes. And so shortly, I will speak about this abiding, which really is the heart of this retreat.
He who trusts himself is lost. He who trusts in God can do all things. —St. Alphonsus Ligouri (1696-1787)
When it comes to temptation, we especially ought not to trust ourselves. Tomorrow we’ll look more carefully at the lie of temptation that seeks to steal our innocence in numerous and subtle ways—and how to resist.
SUMMARY AND SCRIPTURE
Innocence not only increases our capacity for joy, but enables us to see others with the eyes of Christ.
I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ… This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to live just as he lived. (2 Cor 11:3; 1 John 2:5-6)
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