Why Catholic?!

It’s Easter and I’ve been asked why I am Catholic.

For me there is no other religion that allows such intimacy with the Creator—in whichever person as God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit I choose to draw near—or more liberating.

At any time I can go to the Adoration chapel and sit, face to face, with Our Lord physically present in the Blessed Sacrament. I am assured that God takes as much delight in my stopping in to say hello as I do at being there. We visit often and talk about all sorts of things.

There is freedom as a Catholic to be fully who I am, to be all of myself for others. There is the freedom found through Reconciliation. The freedom of Truth that is not apparent or relevant. And there is the glorious unbounded joy of being freely loved.

I love knowing that God is all around me, that He is fully in me, and looks upon me affectionately in all my bumbling humanness.

For me, being Catholic means being fully alive…and it doesn’t get much better than that, at least not here on earth.

Who Was That Man in Luke 22?

The Betrayal of Christ, Jacopo Bassano. Image from Commons.wikimedia.org, public domain.

On Palm Sunday we heard the Gospel reading from Luke 22:47-51 about the angry mob coming for Jesus. There is one man in the mob that has always held my attention; the priest’s slave.

I imagine hearts quickened with adrenalin, eyes widened, and mouths ran dry with fear or anger. In front was Judas leading a priest who had decided this crime against God would end that day, and whose wrath had grown beyond reason. They and the mob’s hate grew with each step toward their target.

The priest’s slave, always at his master’s side, mirrored the priest. The slave too was on the front line. With his muscles taut, he anticipated protecting the priest or advancing the mob to do battle. He only needed the faintest cue from his master to act.

Then they reached the band of apostles. There stood Jesus, so calm, so self assured. The mob must have wondered, did Jesus not realize what they were going to do to him?

Words of accusation erupted. Suddenly a knife was drawn and the slave instinctively stepped in to shield the priest. Dropping his head to protect his neck from the blade he felt the heat of a glancing blow off the side of his cheek. With his head still cocked he stared in disbelief as his ear landed at his feet, blood dripping into the gravelly sand.

The slave stood and turned with fury in his eyes when someone yelled “Stop! No more of this.” The energy behind those words froze time; no one spoke, no one moved. The priest’s slave’s heart was pounding, his breaths short and rasping with anger and pain. The blood was running down his neck and made his tunic stick to his shoulder.

In disbelief the slave watched Jesus move toward him, toward his severed ear with dirt covering the bloodied end. Jesus slowly crouched andpicked it up, wiped the grit from it and standing stepped closer to the slave. Still, no one moved. Then Jesus with the ear cradled in his palm, touched the side of the slave’s head. I can imagine the slave feeling a cooling that eased the pain, felt the skin crawl and tingle as it mended, and heard a low hum as Jesus’ hand dropped away.

As Jesus stepped back the mob attacked and seized him. The slave stood still, confused, amazed, disoriented. He had not yet displaced his anger, the adrenalin still made his heart hammer in his chest and his breath short. But now his hands were trembling as he reached up and delicately touched what was his severed ear. He probably looked at his finger tips in disbelief, no blood. He probably touched the ear again and felt the heat of his fingertips on the lobe.

The slave more than likely watched the mob move away with their captive and listened to his master, the priest, yell for him to follow. The slave, his heart still pounding, may have wondered did they not see what just happened? Did they not watch him mend my flesh? Do they not realize that he really is the Christ?

I wonder what that slave thought and if he wept in hiding as he watched the crucifixion. I wonder if he, as a disciple, spoke the words of peace after experiencing violence.

Who was the man that received the last miracle Christ would bestow?

A Heavy Snow

I am eager to get out and walk the grounds at the retreat center with the garden society volunteers. This group of dedicated women and I have been together for many years. Ten years ago when I began the mission to create gardens of prayer and memorial on the campus, I had not anticipated a disabling condition. The challenges of my inabilities are affecting all of us in our little society. They are helping me to adjust and picking up, literally, where I cannot.

Winter brought the blessing of time for considering how my role must change. It was a typical winter and cold temperatures and seasonal snow kept me indoors.

We experienced a particularly heavy snow late this winter as spring neared. In late afternoon a cold rain came and began to freeze. A little over an hour later snow began to fall and it was beautiful, forming big sticky snowflakes that came down fast. In combination with the freezing rain the snow created a slushy coating encircling the branches of shrubs and trees. Throughout the afternoon I gazed out different windows and watched as the hardwoods fattened up, the circumference of each tip and branch plumping white. The evergreens took on the greatest accumulation of the thick snowy blanket and looked like an over exuberant child had sprayed them with Reddi-wip™.

With the continuing snow, in a matter of only a couple hours, limbs began to bend, hanging low from the weight. During the night the winds began to pick up and soon came the sound of cracking limbs, then the deadened thud as they fell to the ground.

When the light of morning came I could see in my neighbors’ yards the cascade of broken evergreen limbs. When a higher limb broke off, it landed on the next and the weight caused this limb to break. Like dominos they landed on the next, that too broke, and all piled against the tree and ground.

The Eastern White Pines showed the worst of the damage. The wood of this pine is soft and breaks easily. Their long graceful limbs, laterally branched, readily collected the heavy snow atop their fanning needles. It wasn’t until two days later when I went out for a walk through the neighborhood that I realized the magnitude of the damage.

Shallow rooted Box Elders along the lake were toppled by the weight of the encrusting ice and snow. The frozen ground would not release the trailing roots and the small exposed root mass looked odd compared to the size of the tree. Several maples in the area had massive limbs broken off. One relatively young maple lost its central leader and the remaining limbs formed a bowl. The downed limbs that blocked traffic had been cut and pulled to the ditch lines; wood chips still littered the blacktop.

Every Eastern pine along my route was damaged. Every yard in the area had anywhere from a few limbs on the lawn, to a whole side of an evergreen collapsed down on itself. The damage was extensive, but oddly no one tree was beyond salvaging…at least not to this gardener’s eye.

When a tree is damaged by storms, I do not assume it had lost its functionality and immediately cut it down. I would remove what was damaged, pruning it towards a future of new growth. I know as a gardener that with proper pruning damage is often no longer visible with time.

So it is with God. When storms come and the damage extensive, God does not discard. He prunes to rejuvenate, to promote new growth and bring about a continuing purposefulness.

Even though I’ve been damaged by the storms of life, I still have purpose with the garden society. With the loving help of these volunteers, we will all grow in new directions.

Starting Seeds Part 2: Practical Gardening Series

In my February 22nd column, Starting Seeds Indoors Part 1, I talked about how to begin growing seeds indoors. I mentioned timing, containers and potting mix, light, temperature and watering. Let’s continue with the care of seedlings after germination has taken place and the first two leaves, called cotyledons, have emerged. Your plastic covering is now removed from the trays.

(If you direct seeded singly in separate peat pots you have already accomplished the following step and can skip the next two paragraphs.)

When three to four true leaves are showing it’s time to transplant into individual pots.  Fiber pots are best or you can make your own from black-ink newspaper: using a 6 oz. tomato paste can, wrap a folded over 1/4-sheet of newspaper that is two inches taller than the can around it, tuck under the 2” surplus and press can down on table to crease it. Remove can.

Fill with moistened (not soggy!) potting mix and line up so sides of pots touch as they stand in waterproof tray used to protect surfaces. Press a hole in the center of soil for seedling. Use a small flexible metal spatula to remove seedlings from growing tray. Holding them by their leaves gently tease away one plant from other seedlings and plant into pots. Lightly water to set soil around their tiny roots. Plant only as deep as seedling previously grew in tray.

You can now use a liquid fertilizer; dilute it twice as much as instructed and use it half as often. Too much fertilizing at this stage and you could burn the plants, but more likely they will grow too fast and become weak and spindly.

Be careful about humidity and watering while seedlings mature. It is at this stage that most new gardeners fail. Too much water and roots will rot, too much misting and humidity and fungal diseases form. A tiny clip-fan works wonders to help prevent diseases by keeping air gently moving.

If you are using paper or peat pots, gauge wetness by looking at the sides of the pots; they will be dark from moisture. Water when soil dries out an inch from the top. I use a Popsicle stick near edge of pot to pull soil slightly to side to check the moistness. Remember that pots in the center of the tray will remain wetter than those at the edges. Pots closer to a window will dry out faster than those farther away.

Seedlings grown at home do not develop the root mass or thickened stems like their commercially grown cousins; hardening-off will take longer. One week before hardening off plants outdoors, cut back on their watering, stop fertilizing and reduce room temperature.

Ten days before planting in the garden, place plants in a bright location out of direct sunlight and wind for 2-3 hours being sure to check watering. Over the next several days gradually increase plants exposure to sunlight, wind and temperature variations. Leave plants outdoors overnight of the last two days.

I like to transplant late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky and not as hot. The leaves will have time to dry before nightfall, and because plants take up most of their water at night, they will be more able to tolerate the heat of the coming day.