Eastertide is a time to listen.
I was blessed to spend Easter in one of the most gorgeous places on Earth: the northern coast of Donegal, Ireland. I stayed at the Ards Franciscan Friary, where the Irish Capuchins live, worship, lead retreats, and welcome all that come to their door. Not surprisingly, the accommodations were simple yet comfortable, and the food was fresh and delicious. (We Americans need to learn how the Irish make the most gorgeous soups out of the simplest vegetables. And that was just the first course!) I would highly recommend a visit there for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. All are welcome.
The Challenge to Listen
Most importantly, the evangelization was so rich, yet I rarely spoke with the kind Capuchins who were there. I had one short meeting with one brother (they are all priests, but refer to themselves as “brother”) about writing and poetry, and with another over the dining room table (thank you for repairing my rosary, Brother Kieran!), and snatches of conversation with several others. I attended Mass and prayer a few times, but nothing was required. I mainly walked the hills jutting out into the Atlantic along Sheep Haven Bay, enjoying all of the life that surrounded me: bluebells, wild hawthorn, gorse, daffodils, swans, geese, terns, cormorants, and, most amusing, the flirtatious seals who would pop up to see who was passing by, and, just as quickly, dive under the crystal clear blue-green waters.
After discussing poetry and the unfathomable way in which words percolate in the brain and come out on paper, Brother Richard challenged my thoughts about Easter and what it meant to know the Resurrected Lord. To (hopefully) paraphrase him: Jesus is here, now, and He is speaking through every bird, animal, flower, blade of grass, and stone. It is only up to us to listen.
While admitting that his view was Franciscan in nature, he made me think how I drastically shortchange Easter. Yes, Jesus defeated death and rose from the dead. But I ignore the fact that His lifeblood, His anima is all around us. Easter is not over on Easter Monday. It should be celebrated for the next 50 days in particular, and then be allowed to change my life forever. Because of Easter, we are surrounded by Jesus; but like the earliest disciples, often we don’t listen to Him, we don’t see Him, and we don’t even recognize Him.
The Heather on the Cliff
First, he said, I must be very quiet. Observe. Listen. Jesus is always speaking to us.
I focused upon a small clump of heather that was growing out of the side of a cliff overlooking the bay. It caught my eye on one of my first walks. It seemed forgettable—just a tiny bouquet of minuscule pink flowers bursting out of a crevice. Each time on my walk, I would look for that little patch of dark green with pink dots. I decided to listen to what it had to say to me.
Against all odds — the relentless salty wind, the ripping waves, the bitterly cold nights, the narrow crack from which it drew its sustenance — this life proclaimed itself and fulfilled its Creator’s design for it. It was as if it were the only heather in the whole world. It was perfect in the execution of its purpose. It did not wither against the wind (as I would do.) It did not fail to flower beautifully (as I often have.) It did not deviate from its holiness of purpose (oh, heaven help me). It glorified the Lord by doing exactly what He wanted it to do and to be. What a perfect disciple is that tiny beautiful heather! And what beauty it brought by only and totally being what God created it to be!
Evangelizing by Living
Second, we spread the Gospel most fully not by talking about Jesus. Rather we evangelize by our being, our doing, our living. This was exactly what the heather did, and it is what we are called to do. We recall the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Let all the brothers … preach by their deeds.” (This has been frequently reworked as “Preach Jesus at all time, and if necessary, use words,” but there is no proof that St. Francis actually said that.) Eastertide, over the next 50 days, is the perfect time to focus upon that. As I read the Gospel accounts of the early disciples and their fumbling disbelief, their nervous fears, and their newfound eloquence, I can gain confidence in our belief that Jesus Christ is Risen, and nothing is the same forever. I must live the Resurrection life.
Do I live (like the tiny heather) as if nothing is more important than God’s will for me? Or am I always trying to deviate from that will to follow my own path?
Do I live as if I truly trust the design that God has laid out for me? Or do I place more value upon the opinions of this world, its judgments and fashions?
Do I live satisfied with where God has placed me, even though it may be “tiny” in the world’s eyes? Or do I long to be somewhere else—someplace more exciting or popular?
Let Me Live As If I Truly Believe
In the eyes of the world, Jesus was never more than a simple, forgettable carpenter.
With the eyes of faith, however, we know that He was the most revolutionary and most powerful figure who ever walked on Earth. He changed the course of history.
Easter tells us that He is here, always calling out to us, always wanting to be with us and, through His Eucharist and the Holy Spirit, in us. Lord, let me live as if I truly believe that.
And may I always remember to stop to study the smallest flower.
Because it has more heavenly wisdom than I ever will.