FROM THE PRESIDENT'S KITCHEN TABLE
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.
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.