Lousy Parents and the Case for Unkempt Souls

Around St. Blog’s recently, we’ve looking at the “What’s wrong with catechesis?” problem, and the refrain that is not news to anyone is, “What do we do with these parents?”  You know the ones . . . they drop their kid off for 2nd grade sacramental prep, plan an extravagant 1st Communion party, and turn back up every Christmas and Easter until it’s time for the 1st communicant’s wedding.  Or some similar story — there are many variations on the Very Bad Catholic theme.

The answer to the parent-problem is simple: Evangelize them.  Mom or Dad (or Grandma or Grandpa) has darkened the doors of Church, and so what if they’re just there for the poinsettias or the white dress, run with it!  Welcome them, share the Gospel with them, and bend over backward to make it possible for them to take another step forward in their faith.  They might or might not choose to accept that invitation, but we can at least eliminate as many excuses as possible.

Meanwhile, we need to talk about my garden.

Several years ago, I read Margaret Rose Realy’s excellent book on creating prayer gardens, A Garden of Visible Prayer.   I like to garden and I like to pray . . . or at the very least, if I’m going to try to like to pray, a nice garden is one place I’m likely to do it.  Reading her book was just what I needed. I followed the instructions and created a quiet corner of my yard that I think of as my “prayer garden.”

Now I’ll let you in on a secret: “Liking” something and “being good at it” are two different things.  I like to sing, but I’m not good at it. I like to paint, but I’m not good at it.  I like to garden, but I’m not good at.

On a warm winter afternoon recently, I settled into the plastic lawn chair in my “prayer garden” to pray the Rosary.  I looked around, and smiled contentedly, and blessed Margaret once again for writing such a helpful book, one that truly changed my life for the good.  But here’s what I was looking at:

  • Dead chrysanthemum stalks begging to be pruned three months ago.
  • Monstrously leggy Franken-rosemary, fruit of an attempt to propagate from cuttings.
  • Falling-down wire fencing that the dog slips behind so she can lounge on the lavendar, now artfully-crushed.
  • A second lawn chair sitting randomly in the middle of the space, because someone forgot to put it away.

I’m ahead of the game, though, because at least the lawn chair isn’t knocked over.

I love this garden.

It is a garden so dreadful it could never be shown on one of those HGTV reality shows, because people would think the “before” picture had been faked.  But I love it.

Why do I love it?  Because I made it.  Because I know what it’s supposed to be.  I can look at dead mums’ stalks and see next year’s flowers.  I can sit in a wobbly plastic lawn chair, slightly broken — wobbling because it’s perched where the dog dug up a mole and I never got around to refilling the hole — and survey my crazy unkempt corner of quiet, and see what’s there beneath all the ragged edges.

This is how God sees us.  Not because He’s a lousy gardener, but because we’re lousy gardeners.  He gives each of us free will, and He gives each of us a share in the work of the Kingdom of Heaven.  And He lets us do that work, even though it means we’re going to forget this, and fail at that, and try the other random Bright Idea! that totally, completely, will not succeed, ever.

Like wind-sown cone-flowers popping up in the strangest places, could-be disciples sprout up all over our parishes.  Leggy, awkward, ill-mannered — never where, or how, or when we want them.  Sure, they’re blocking the path to the hose . . . but they aren’t weeds.

I don’t propose that we settle for a shoddy Church.  I propose we fill in our parish mole-holes, clean up our broken fences, and get that lawn chair back where it belongs.  But when we see that straggly-rosemary of a sacrament-seeking parent, or that dead-stalk-mum of the cranky old cantor who can’t hold a tune . . . see the beautiful work that’s coming.

It’s an unkempt soul.  It’s not pretty.  It needs some pruning, some fertilizing, some watering — and it may never be that spectacular display from the garden catalog.  So what?  It’s the one that God put in your parish garden, and it belongs there.

Copyright 2014, Jennifer Fitz

Jennifer Fitz

Jennifer Fitz

Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists from Liguori Publications. She writes about the Catholic faith at her Patheos blog, Sticking the Corners.

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