The editorial of the month

The editorial of the month by Father Sebastian White, o.p.

Being more of a homebody, I do not deal well with the vexations of traveling, whether by planes, trains, or automobiles, so I usually try to immerse myself in a good audiobook. Sometimes it’s a biography or history, other times a great work of fiction. And since I believe there is a lot of wisdom for grownups between the covers of the classics of children’s literature, occasionally I select something from that genre—either in reminiscence of the delight I had reading a certain story long ago, or because I had somehow come this far in life having passed it by. Some of the most enjoyable have been E.B. White reading his own Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which Pope Benedict referred to more than once as a critique of modernity’s narrow, materialistic mindset; and, recently, Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which, to my mind, admirably portrays how friendship, awareness of another’s suffering, and the opportunity to play outdoors all contribute to a person’s emotional maturity and mental health.

The story memorably begins with the spoiled, ill-­tempered, and imperious Mary, who is “quite contrary,” or “as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived.” We also see why. For Mary is unloved, unwanted, and lonely. After she is sent to live with her widower-uncle at Misselthwaite Manor, however, a transformation begins. As she explores the estate, forms relationships with the staff and neighbors, and enjoys the solicitude of a cheerful robin redbreast who often alights in her presence, Mary begins to be more tender, joyful, and humane. And when she learns about a secret garden lugubriously locked and forsaken ever since her aunt’s death, Mary forms an irrepressible desire to enter it and nurture it back to life.

Along the way Mary also befriends her bedridden cousin Colin, a morose and similarly demanding, lonely boy who is, like the garden, neglected. Initially convinced that he is sickly and sure to die young, by the end of the story Colin is frolicking in the garden with Mary, crying out: “I shall live forever and ever and ever! I shall find out thousands and thousands of things. I shall find out about people and creatures and everything that grows. I’m well! I’m well! I feel—I feel as if I want to shout out something—something thankful, joyful!”

An Enclosed Garden

I mention all this not simply to regale you with “a few of my favorite things” (to quote the popular Christmas song), but because I cannot help but note a certain similarity with the real story of our humanity. Recall that in the beginning the Lord God planted a garden in Eden…. Out of the ground the Lord God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle (Gn 2:8-9). After the death of Adam and Eve—that is, the spiritual death of turning away from God in sin—the garden was locked: The Lord God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden…. 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 (Gn 3:23-24).

Saint John Eudes, the great promoter of devotion to the heart of Mary, once reflected on the deeper meaning these words have in the Blessed Virgin Mary. “The name of the garden of delights,” he wrote, “can very properly be applied to the admirable heart of the Mother of God, true paradise of the new man, Jesus Christ. It is a garden of the Beloved, a garden sealed and doubly barred, a garden of delights.”

Additionally, in the Song of Songs a verse from the sacred lover to his bride is also seen to apply to our Lady: A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed! (Sg 4:12). According to Eudes, the Lord reveals here that “the heart of his Beloved Bride is absolutely shut against two things: it is shut against sin, which together with the serpent, the author of sin, never entered there; and it is shut against the world and all things of the world, against everything that is not God. He alone has always occupied this garden entirely, and there never existed a place in it for anything else.”

Mary the Mother of God, then, is also “quite contrary,” for she is entirely opposed to sin. In her, the purity and life that we lost at Eden remains perfectly preserved.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

This month, as we prepare for both Christmas and the feast of the Immaculate Conception, we show special devotion to the Blessed Mother for bringing Jesus, the fruit of her womb, into the world. And just as in Burnett’s story the newly restored garden “bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles,” so through Mary the Lord’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning (Lam 3:22-23).

At the end of The Secret Garden, Colin’s “rapturous belief” that he would live forever left him searching for words, so one of the characters suggests (and sings) the doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; / Praise him all creatures here below; / Praise him above ye heavenly host; / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

We would do well to sing those words ourselves this month in praise of the Son of God and Son of Mary, who came to unlock the gates of paradise—and give us the joy of living forever as children of God.