PEACE, SNAKES, AND DEATH
William E. May, Ph. D.
How are “Peace,” “Snakes,” and “Death” interrelated and what do they have in common?
On June 8, Pentecost, Pope Francis had an historic meeting in Rome with Shimon Peres of Israel, Mahmoud of the Palestinian Authority, and Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople. Peres and Mahmoud, speaking for themselves and not for their governments, called, with Francis, for peace in the turbulent Mideast, which has witnessed, and still does witness, incessant war between Israel and militant Muslims since 1948.
Pope Francis’s initiative was not unique Pope St. John Paul II organized the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Asissi, Italy, on October 27, 1986. 160 religious leaders spent the day together fasting and praying to their God or Gods. They represented 32 non-Catholic Christian religious organizations (including the Eastern Orthodox Church, which Pope St. John Paul II called “the other lung of the Church and with which he prayed the Roman Catholic Church could reunite) and 11 other non-Christian world religions, including Judaism and Islam. Moreover Pope St. John XXIII issued a famous Encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on earth) in 1963.
At this meeting Pope Francis declared: "Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity." Peres and Mahmoud and Batholomew I agreed, and at the end of the meeting all embraced and kissed one another.
But what has this to do with snakes? Here we must recall what happened in the Garden of Eden, and the role of the snake, who was the one who tempted Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, promising her that if she ate this fruit she would be like God. But the Lord God had told her and Adam that they could eat the fruit of all the trees in the Garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; if they did, they would die.
We know (read Genesis, 3 in its entirety) that Eve showed Adam this fruit and that immediately their eyes were opened an they realized that they were naked and felt ashamed. When the Lord God, who previously had walked with them in friendship, met them he knew that they had eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, told them they would die, made coverings for their naked bodies, cursed the serpent, condemned it to crawl on its belly in the dirt, and put enmity between it and the woman, cursed Adam, telling him that by the sweat of his brow he would eat bread etc.
Some prsons I know recently (2013) purchased some property in Washington VA. They learned that it is snake infested, with poisoness rattlesnakes and copperheads among them. On their behalf I made a novena to St. Patrick to drive them out. He drove snakes out of pagan Ireland, which became the land of saints who suffered grave injuries bravely until today when a now secularist society engages in terrorist attacks on civilians in northern Ireland and Great Britain.
And that leads us to consider death, which is a punishment for sin--the sin of our first parents, transmitted to us by propagation, not by imitation. We believe that at death our mortal remains are buried in the ground or cremated but that our immortal remains survive, awaiting the resurrection of the dead. From a Christian perspective we can even say that at death life is not taken away but transferred into another realm (vita non tollitur sed mutatur). And we know that Christ has conquered death by his passion, death, and resurrection and that death has lost its sting. But we are not Platonists who think that death is the release of the soul from the prison of the body, but that the body is integral to the being of a human person. Thus St.Thomas Aquinas was right in saying, “my soul isn’t me” (anima mea non est ego--Super primam epistolam ad corinthios, Lectura 1, 10)
I believe that I have shown how “PEACE,” “SNAKES,” and “DEATH” are interrelated and what they have in common. They are interrelated have in common yhe truth that peace, snakes, and death are all human and are related to our God-given power of free choice. “Peace” is the choice of a person who is inwardly disposed and receptive of God’s grace to choose and do what is good; “snakes” signifies the human person who yields to temptations to put himself in the place of God: “death” means eternal separation from God for those who condemn themselves to “hell“—God does not do this because he is absolutely innocent of evil—and death. And death means 1) for those who acknowledge in faith and action the Triune God and the saving action of Jesus, the Father’s only begotten son made flesh in the virgin’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, through his passion, death, and glorious resurrection (Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection and is now the kind of humans we will become when he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead). It means 2) that as our soul awaits the second coming, being purged of any stain of sin in “purgatory,” we have firm hope that at the second coming we will be invited to enter the heavenly realm as members of the divine family.
Version: 3rd July 2014