The Mighty Oak, Symbol of Incorruptible Faith


The oak is a long lived tree, often exceeding 500 years. With a trunk and limbs that are thick and sturdy, it’s rarely damaged by storms—the leaves are marcescent in the north, not dropping until spring, and hold snow loads of impressive weights! Wind shears have been known to strip the tree bare, leaving the branches intact. About the only feat of nature to regularly damage an oak is lightning—of all the tree species struck by lightening, the oak is most frequently hit.

Because of its endurance this tree came to symbolize the profound and unyielding strength and steadfastness of Christians’ faith in the face of adversity. St. Sebastian is depicted as being lashed to an oak.


(San Sebastian, El Greco, image public domain)

With its nearly incorruptible wood it came to connote salvation, and is symbolic of physical and moral vigor. And this explains its association to the Virgin Mary.

Madonna of the Oaks Wikimedia(The Holy Family of the Oak Tree, Raphael Sanzio, image public domain)

According to legend, the Christianization of heathen druidic tribes in Germany by Saint Boniface was marked by his felling of an oak, where upon a fir tree immediately grew and whose triangular shape symbolizes the Trinity—more on the fir in another column.

In the Bible, Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD (Gen 13:18). Later we read that Joshua erects a large stone under an oak tree as the first covenant of the Lord (Josh. 24:26). In Isaiah 61, the prophet refers to the Israelites as “Oaks of Righteousness”.

And now you know that an image of a saint with an oak alludes to the saint’s firm incorruptible faith.


 (St. Paul the Hermit fed by the Raven, II Guercino, image public domain.)

Image by Rafixx from Pixabay


Silent Saints


During this time of year a profuse setting of seed is taking place. Every weed, wild grass, and all trees that can are working at being prolific.

There is a stage of germination in autumn, encouraged by earth still warm from summer, during which a seed’s casing can crack and send down roots, but the apical meristem (the top stem producing leaves) is stunted by the colder nights.

With autumn roots firmly established, when spring returns, fruitfulness will be abundant as a new season of growth draws the plant out of darkness.

Seed production—the end state of fruitfulness—differs among genera. The mass of seeds produced depends on a specific plant’s design. Some plants are short-lived and send out copious seeds in their brief one-season life. Other plants live longer and may bear as many if not more seeds over years. Either way, seeds are dispersed, set root, and eventually bear fruit that in turn continues the cycle to sow more seeds.

There is also an ecology of sorts in the Church. I look at her as producing copious seeds; those saints who set roots of faith, and soon produce fruits—the seeds of evangelization. This cycle of faith is ecologically sound, like the prairie grasses whose roots are critical to keeping the land together for future generations of growth.

These are often reluctant saints, unnoticed for the most part, who fill that minor space in our days. Like a student that studied under Pope St. John Paul II, whose name we will never know, whose deeds went unnoticed except by a recipient—and possibly even then in secret. Or an elderly woman who revealed purposefulness in aging—in drawing closer to her final home she encouraged the hearts and souls of those at her bedside to also be saints in their blessings to her.

They, like us, do no great things, but plod along doing what Our Lord would prefer we do: live his Word of charity—seeking to become more holy, despite perhaps shuddering at the overtness of the words ‘to evangelize’.

These are the silent saints, who lived a quiet humble life. They are as numerous as the prairie grasses and every bit as essential to stability.

Image by North at

In Communion with Saints, Tuesday’s Prayer for Sisters and Nuns


Gentle Mother, Queen of Heaven, hear our prayers for our Sisters and Nuns.

That in communion with you and all the saints, the least of their acts done in charity will rebound to the profit of all.

Encourage and guide them in all that they do, and protect their souls locked in human frailness.

We ask all this in the name of your son, Jesus.


Image by Suji at

Of Lavender and Maple Leaves

The Lavender plant and its flower represent love and devotion. Lavender flowers are also associated with purity, silence, and caution. The leaves from a Maple tree symbolize “to be reserved.”

Many of our saints were filled with those qualities. What a lovely reminder of their lives, spoken in the language of flowers, as we approach the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.

Tree Hugging Saints who Preceded Tree Hugging Pope Francis; St. Oengus

Spideog, Erithacus rubecula“Now ask the beasts to teach you, and the birds of the air to tell you; Or the reptiles on earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of God has done this? In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mankind.” Job 12: 7-10

Yesterday was a big day for us gardeners and, well, all naturalists, when Pope Francis instituted within the Church September 1 as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

Vatican Radio reported the event, in which Pope Francis noted that,

…the initiative follows in the footsteps of the Orthodox Church which, for the past 25 years, has dedicated September 1st, the beginning of a new year in the Orthodox liturgical calendar, to care for the environment. Since that time, the World Council of Churches has also marked a month-long ‘Time for Creation’ stretching from September 1st to the feast of St Francis of Assisi on October 4th.

In the spirit of this time for creation I will weekly until October 4 share with you a few gardening saints who knew the value of nature.

St. Óengus the Culdee (Angus, Ængus, Dengus, of Tallaght, of Clonenagh, Servant of God)

ca. 824, Ireland, Memorial March 11

Patron of Kitchen (Cellarer’s) Gardens

The term Culdee, Servant of God, refers to St. Óengus’ love of solitude. Célé Dé or Céili Dé (Culdee) was a name given to the hermits of that time; Céili Dé means the intimates or companions of God. There is considerable conflicting information (each source indicating of course that it is the most accurate) whether he became a lay brother of the Culdees, if the order developed because of him or if this was a general term for monks in solitude.[1] In any case, this order of monks took a more austere form of fasting, penance, and prayer. He eventually became a bishop in Ireland.

As a young man St. Óengus is said to have conversed with angels who enhanced his love of prayer and solitude. During that time he researched and wrote extensively about the saints and later wrote his own Féilire or Festilogium, a calendar of saints that became one of the sources of information for the early Irish saints. He found nature supplied him with a good deal of insight about those holy men and women:

The birds…sang to him songs of the saints; the green grass of the Emerald Isle told him of their hopefulness; the white daisy blossoms of their purity; the red roses of their martyrdom. The mighty oak trees spoke of their strength; all nature seemed to him to be singing the praises of the saints. He, thinking upon the saints so much encouraged others to take the sweetness of these holy lives and make it their own, even as the bee gathers honey from the flower.[2]

This beloved saint in all humility hid the fact for years that he was highly educated, choosing manual labor. He pursued the practice of deep durational prayer, more easily admired than imitated.

When St. Óengus entered the monastery he labored in the cellarer’s gardens. The cellarer was one of the leading monastic officials in charge of maintaining provisions, responsible for feeding the entire monastic community. This including lay-workers and peasants in need, as well as a steady stream of guests who visited the monastery on a journey or pilgrimage. And royalty guests could include a large retinue! The cellarer’s provisioning included a supply of vegetables and fruit, dairy, fowl and fish, medicinal plants and utilitarian herbs including hay and flax, as well as bees for candle wax and honey. There were many types of cellarer’s gardens with the main one being the kitchen garden or, in French, the le jardin potager.

While working the many provisional gardens St. Óengus usually had birds perching on his shoulders and singing to him as he worked. These birds and especially the robins were his constant companions. One day he severely cut his hand while chopping wood and the robins were so distressed they flew near to his hand frantically beating their wings and “…uttered loud cries because their friend was hurt.”

The Robin of Ireland, Erithacus rubecula, often called a Ploughman’s Bird or Spideog, is a small little bird of only about three inches. It is mostly gray with a portion of its face and breast being red, and the remaining underside mottled white. It is a friendly bird rarely disturbed by the hubbub of people and often trails behind gardeners looking for freshly unearthed worms…and now you know why its so named, the Ploughman’s Bird.

For more gardening saints, my book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, has them listed by month!

(Image of Erithacus rubecula by Juan Emilio from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, España [CC BY-SA 2.0 ( )], via Wikimedia Commons) 


[1] My bias is that of St. Óengus being a hermit in service to God and that the term culdee simply indicated that solitary activity; see the 1868 writings about the life of this saint by Rev. John O’Hanlon.

[2] Hilton, Agnes Aubrey, Legends of Saints and Birds, p. 37