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Ink Slingers

A Deeper Look

My mom and I share an interest in flower gardening. Over the years, she has given me many “starts” from her perennial gardens, and I try my best to keep them alive. Sometimes it works, other times I am forced to take the walk of shame from the flowerbed to the garbage can to toss the feckless, fruitless, failure into the bin.

A few years back she gifted me with one of her “money plants” that grew for years in wispy waves in the flowerbed along her garage. I always admired the cuttings she made from the plants every fall. Delicate, pearlescent silver dollars dangled from tall stems in a vase on her table. No additional flowers were needed to brighten the arrangement— these beauties made a bold enough statement on their own.

With that vision in my head, I planted her silver dollar money plants along my garage too, and took special care not to kill them. Turns out, these plants are hard to kill. In fact, given even slightly reasonable conditions, they will multiply. Massively. Like dirty laundry in the corners of your kids’ rooms. By the following fall, I had more than enough plants to create my own stunning centerpieces.

But there was a problem: My silver dollars weren’t luminous white discs. They were ugly, bumpy and brown! They looked dead. Oh no, I thought. Here comes another shameful trek to the garbage can. Stupid plants. What did I do wrong? I couldn’t figure it out. My money plants all died back over the winter, with no chance to adorn my table.

Calling in the Plant Calvary

The next year, I was determined to do better. The prolific plants doubled in number again! But when the end of summer came along I was in the same frustrating boat, staring with furrowed brow at a sad crop of dry, wrinkly pods. That’s it, I decided. Time to call in the plant cavalry (i.e., my mom).   

What she told me on the phone first made me fall silent. And then it made me smile. And then it made me laugh for a good long time.

I had been missing a very important piece of knowledge. I dashed outside to snag a stem of silver dollars and pinched a pod between my finger and thumb. Then I slid my fingers back and forth, ever so gently, and voila! The unattractive outer layer fell away and revealed the lustrous shiny coin I was yearning for. The ugliness that I had scorned for two seasons was merely a protective covering— a botanical bodyguard— that hid the fragile beauty beneath it.

 

Quick to Judge Instead of Love

Isn’t that the way it goes sometimes, Sistas? I pondered the notion in my prayer journal: We can be so quick to make judgments and come to conclusions that turn out to be so wrong. And I’m not talking just plants here, of course. Whether it’s the mom who is consistently late to her children’s events, or the co-worker who is struggling to stay awake, or the child who is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, we have to remember we are looking only at the unpleasant outer layer. We don’t know if there’s an elderly parent’s care making the mom late, or an abusive spouse situation creating the co-worker’s exhaustion, or a special needs diagnosis causing the child’s behavior. Only the outer layer is visible to us in that moment of time.

God has made us all in his image. We are unique, fabulous creations of His— no two of us are alike! Yet we live in a fallen world with challenges, complexities, and outright sin. These factors can give us an uninviting outer shell and can also hastily cloud our initial perception of others. The foggy glasses of snap judgment can prevent us from seeing the beauty that most certainly exists right below the surface of each one of us. I, for one, don those foggy glasses of snap judgment wayyyy too often.

Saint Mother Teresa teaches us, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” So let’s give each other a break, shall we? We all have struggles, we all have faults, we are all sinners. Let’s look beyond the outer layer, avoid snap judgments and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Better yet, let’s show some love. Let’s vow to save a seat for that latecomer, bring a cup of coffee to that co-worker, and give an empathetic smile to the frazzled mom in the grocery store.

People, like plants, deserve a deeper look.

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Easter Guest Posts Liturgical Year

From the President’s Kitchen Table of Les Femmes

FROM THE PRESIDENT’S KITCHEN TABLE

Dear Readers,

Springtime gardening always inspires me to think about the faith. It’s appropriate isn’t it, especially during the Easter Season when Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for the gardener of Gethsemane? And what an image that is! Jesus is the New Adam who brings new life. The old Adam, given dominion over the Garden of Eden, became its destroyer and was driven out. The New Adam waters the garden with blood and water flowing from His side. He strengthens and nurtures the seeds of faith and sends his followers out from the garden to spread his bounty throughout the entire world. Like the apostles, we share in the work of the Master Gardener spreading the faith.

This year I imitated a friend of mine who starts her garden from seeds when it’s still frigid outside. I bought my packages of Better Boys, cherry tomatoes, and basil and planted them in egg shells (like my friend does) in early March. My sun porch was the “greenhouse” for the baby plants. Interestingly the cherry tomatoes did the best, almost every seed germinating within two weeks. The Better Boys were slackers and the basil had a small return and continues to grow slowly. Perhaps there’s a lesson there too. We plant the seeds of faith, but they don’t “take” in the same way with everyone. Some require more patience and some of the slowpokes will respond eventually if we don’t give up.

If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace….No one would complain about his cross or about troubles… if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.
St. Rose of Lima

But the work isn’t finished with the early beginning. When my plants were about two inches tall I started transplanting them into pots. I crushed the egg shells and poked plant, shell and all, into the dirt. After another two weeks I transplanted some of the larger plants (now about six inches) into bigger pots for my patio garden. I thought three of the cherry tomatoes were strong enough to be out in the daytime. But yesterday was windy and I noticed that my fragile plants, with little protection, had faded from their brilliant green to whitish and dry-looking. Ah…an early assault on a fragile plant (or faith) can take a serious toll. So back the plants came to my sun porch hospital for extra nurturing before I try again. And isn’t that what we need to do sometimes when spreading the faith? Isaiah said it in describing the Messiah, “A bruised reed he will not crush; the smoldering wick he will not quench.” (Matthew 12:20) New faith needs gentle encouragement.

My gardening metaphor is especially a propos with regard to the faith of children. They need to be well instructed and strong in knowledge and virtue before being transplanted into the world. I once heard Fr. John Hardon, SJ warn home schooling parents that their children are particularly vulnerable to scandal because they are so innocent. Teens protected within the walls of the domestic church who have not experience the direct assaults of Satan through the peer group or the ridicule of teachers need to be “toughened up” before being thrust into the world on their own. Sending a home schooler off to a secular college or, worse, a scandalous “Catholic” institution with no serious preparation or transition (at a community college perhaps?) can be a disaster.

Recognizing that kids are losing their faith in college (three out of four in some studies), a few Protestant groups now offer “college boot camp” to prepare kids for campus life and to prevent them from being seduced by secular humanism. Non believing professors often create an environment of intolerance treating students who profess moral values as unthinking robots. These professors teach truth doesn’t exist (except their personal belief in non truth). Rather truth is a social construct or superstition. Most teachers who attack faith are probably nice people. They want to convince students they are misguided. Nice teachers are a greater threat than persecutors. The Pied Piper playing his seductive tune attracts more followers than the sadist with his whip!

We Catholics need to develop our own “boot camp” to prepare kids for college. Not every parent can afford a faithful private university like those identified in the Cardinal Newman Society’s College Guide. State schools are the practical choice for many which makes proper preparation of students imperative. We have the truth, but our children must know how to articulate it in the face of intimidation and ridicule. Otherwise, they will be browbeaten into silence. And for truth to attract it must be heard! So toughen up those plants in the winds of apologetics; give them practice defending the faith. Water them with virtue and fertilize with the catechism and great Catholic thinkers like G.K. Chesterton. Then send them out under the protection of our Master Gardener to plant the seeds of faith everywhere.

**Mary Ann Kreitzer is a co-founder of Les Femmes and the Catholic Media Coalition, organizations that defend the authentic Catholic Faith. She is a master catechist, a long-time pro-life activist, and a former Natural Family Planning teacher. She writes from the Shenendoah Valley of Virginia. This post was printed with Mary Ann’s permission and can be found at the Les Femmes website.**

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Shiela

The Beauty of Truth

I plucked a red pepper out of the garden yesterday.  It was well formed with rounded quadrants at the top and bottom.  The skin was soft, smooth and ruby red.  The stem was perky and green and still had a leaf attached.  It had a scent of pepper mingling with sweetness.  It was simply beautiful.  It sits on my window sill and I gaze at it when I am at the sink.  I tend to put small beautiful things on my window sill.  A small painted animal or a miniature vase of flowers from the yard.  I spend a lot of time in my kitchen and I like to surround myself with beautiful things.   Making beautiful things gives me great pleasure, too. When I cook, I am aware of the color and presentation of the food as much as the taste.  I consider the color of the platter and how it will complement my entree.  There is something about beauty, wherever it is found, that captivates us and makes us pause for a moment.  But, what is in that moment?  Why do we desire beauty in our lives?

My appreciation for beauty in art led me to Florence, Italy when I was in college. There,  I had the opportunity to explore the San Marco Monastery in Florence, a former monastery turned museum.  In the hallways and on each dormitory wall, Fra Angelico, had painted a fresco depicting moments in Christ’s life.  I stood in each nearly empty dorm and imagined what it must have been like to awaken in this spartan room to nothing but walls, the floor and a beautiful fresco.   The intent of the fresco was to put each monk into the contemplative, peaceful mindset that is required of their vocation.  These colors and lines and symbols telling the story of our Lord gave an ethereal richness to the impoverished life of these monks.  In the enclosed courtyard of the monastery, another monk was tasked with maintaining a beautiful rose garden.  Each plant was carefully tended to produce a perfect rose.  Others spent their days creating manuscripts with elegant calligraphy and illuminations.  I left the monastery thinking that it was as if they traded all the fleeting treasures of this  secular world to live amidst the beauty of  eternal truth.

The life of Christ has inspired some of the most magnificent works of beauty known to man.  A beauty that is set apart from a secular idea of beauty that only seeks to display an individual’s wealth or to celebrate the empty promise of hedonism.    During my time in Florence and Rome, I was able to experience coming face to face with transcendant beauty created by  many gifted painters.  Not just Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but their many apprentices, too.  And not just painting, but literature, architecture, and music has also been created by man over the centuries to glorify God.  We have G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and  Robert Southwell to name a few authors whose writings use the beauty of language in either its poetic or reasonable character to reveal the truth.

By stark contrast, when beauty is absent, we find darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  When the towers fell, ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we witnessed the opposite of creation.  We witnessed destruction.  The images that emerged from that tragic day were filled with darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  In the same way, we pause and we are captivated.  But there is something very different that moment when we behold ugliness. When something is created to glorify God, there will be transcendant beauty.  If we really believe this to be true, we must question how war and acts of war can ever be considered acts that glorify God.  In light of the recent conflicts, Pope Benedict has said that we need to be “asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.”  This weekend, as we revisit the tragic events of ten years ago and the attendant images,  I hope we can pause and reflect on how we can resolve the problems in the world without turning to acts of war, but rather by seeking to build up God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

When the first tower was struck ten years ago, I was eight months pregnant with my first born son.  I was also working part-time as an art therapist with children in foster care.   Art therapists use art to encourage healing from trauma.  It occurred to me at that time that we, as a country, had been traumatized.  And we have needed healing.  Since September 11, 2001, we have each done our part to restore beauty to the landscape of our life.  There are so many little ways that we can participate in God’s ongoing creation.  We can start in simple ways each day.  Plant a garden, knit a scarf, paint a picture, play a song on the piano, write a poem and take moments to experience and appreciate beauty wherever you can find it.  And create it where it is lacking.

from New Heaven, New War by Robert Southwell

With tears He fights and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield,

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,

His martial ensigns, cold and need,

And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.
Botticelli, Madonna of the Magnificat, Ufizi Musem, Florence