Tending the Garden: A Spiritual Invitation – By Sister Rita Woehlcke SSJ

Everything about Spring speaks of the indomitability of life. In our hemisphere, Earth regales us with myriad flowers that have weathered the tough winter and made the journey from darkness to light. Our spiritual tradition celebrates the triumph of life over death and the sure promise of a God faithful beyond our dreaming.

As many of us prepare our gardens, we select the best seeds and time their planting to maximize the possibility of a nourishing harvest. We weed, fertilize, and water, nurturing and protecting the first fragile shoots. We hope for gentle rains. We are vigilant, watching for intruders and any kind of blight. We make choices and do the work to create the beauty and nourishment we need to help us be deeply human and happy.

This season invites us to take stock of other gardens—our hearts, our communities, our world. The stories of Jesus frequently refer to seeds and growth, to what chokes our spirits or weakens our roots. Even as we Christians profess the mystery of new life out of death, we live in the shadow of endless wars. Our air is fouled with hate speech. We are inundated with divisive messages that our neighbor is our enemy, that those who differ from us in any way need to be destroyed. What can we do to cleanse our spirits to create the world we say we want for our children and grandchildren?

We have choices. What fills the soil of our souls? What fills our air and airwaves? Disparaging rants? Incessant blaming? A vicious partisanship that demonizes the other? What negative tropes have taken root in us and find their way to our lips? What thoughts and feelings are choking the law of Love planted in our hearts? What is stomping down the gifts of the Spirit—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord? What is spoiling the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

The Sisters of Saint Joseph in their foundation and their history are no strangers to ravaged gardens. At their foundation in 17th century France, religious wars among groups both professing love of God and Christ divided their country. That division and its aftermath—poor widows, starving children and hatred, ignited their hearts and their mission: inclusive love that fosters union. In authentic spiritual wisdom, they knew they had to become that love by allowing God’s Spirit to transform their hearts and by making that love visible in deeds. Even as they passionately believed in their Catholic tradition, their love extended to every dear neighbor without distinction from whom they did not separate themselves. They made choices for love rather than hate, solidarity rather than exclusion.

They and those of us who followed them have a practice of reflecting on each day’s experiences. We invite God’s Spirit to reveal where we have responded to grace, where we have been love, received love. We also ask to know and acknowledge where we have been off target, missing the opportunities to be love. We take responsibility for and count on God’s grace and mercy to help us become what God dreams, to help us become good stewards of the garden we all share.

This and every Spring, Earth in its fierce and faithful beauty will invite us to bring alive what is good, true, pure and beautiful. May we tend the seeds of love, and cultivate respect that will renew our families, our communities, our church, our world. Join us in a resounding “YES! Amen.”