Of the many truths I have learned from the Gospel, the one that always comes to mind around the summer solstice is that all are not apostles, and all are not prophets. All are not teachers, and all are not miracle-workers.

But all are gardeners.

We are all called to scatter seed. We are all called to toil in the soil, hoeing, weeding, and watering. The harvest, well, that’s something I may never see. If that frustrates me, it’s because I do not understand my calling. Three things for the spiritual gardener to remember:

The Master Chooses His Tool

As a gardener, I am called to be God’s coworker. In imitation of Christ, and empowered by the same Spirit, I scatter seed here on this earth. Just like Jesus, the obedient Son of the Father, I do not call the shots. I do not map out my own campaigns or draft my own agenda. To put it in horticultural terms, I know I am called to garden, but my Master – the Master Gardener – will choose where, when and how I fulfill my calling. I am God’s servant, and I must yield to His plans, and I must learn to become meek and humble of heart. In that sense I, as a gardener, am a tool in the hands of God, a sentient garden implement so to speak, like a self-aware hoe or a spade. We gardeners are meant to be implements in the divine Plan of salvation, and that places upon us certain restrictions.

For example, we won’t always be the tool God chooses to use. Think of something as simple as kitchen utensils. Spoons are pretty handy, but when I need to carve a turkey, I can’t use a spoon. If that leaves the spoon huffy because it feels slighted, it serves to demonstrate the spoon’s lack of perspective. As a spiritual gardener, I can remember times when others have communicated God’s love to hurting individuals so much more effectively than I could have, leaving me standing on the edge of the flower bed wondering if I am really called to garden. Yes, I am, but I am not always the one God will choose to plow, to scatter seed, to water, to prune, or to harvest at any given time. As a gardener I am God’s tool. I must work, and work with a will, but the Master will choose His implement according to His desire. My job is to stand ready, and to refrain from spitefully allowing myself to rust because He chose to use another tool in my stead this time.

The Master Gardener Chooses How He will use His Tool

This one can make us uncomfortable because it strikes at our pride. I am a hoe, I tell myself, an excellent hoe! No one hoes those rows like I do! And then the Master leaves me lying in the garden, and someone trips over me, falling headlong into the sweet pea patch. How humiliating for me! Never mind that face-down in the sweet pea patch is exactly where God wants that person to be, and that He deigned to use me to put her there. Hmmph!! God seems to have forgotten – I am a hoe, an excellent hoe! Use me for the appropriate purpose,
or don’t use me at all. If you want to trip somebody, use a rock, for Pete’s sake!

You go to work raring to share the Good News with your coworkers, and God uses a bone-headed mistake you made to teach your hot-headed supervisor forbearance when he restrains himself from dressing you down publicly. How excited are you about being God’s instrument now? God is using you, isn’t He? Yes, but not the way you want Him to. He’s using a hoe as a trellis, helping your supervisor to grow closer to Him. Can you offer up a hearty Blessed be the Name of the Lord now, excellent hoe?

Remember, our omnipotent Master Gardener can use even your mistakes. He needs manure for His gardens.

The Master Chooses the Crops He wants us to Raise and Asks that We Leave the Outcome in His Hands

All of us want to be world-class gardeners who cultivate prize-winning orchids. If God acceded to our desire, the world would be overwhelmed by beauty even as we all died of starvation. All sorts of crops need to be raised, and to some it is given to cultivate orchids, but certainly not to all. If you’ve been chosen to raise rutabagas, raise rutabagas with a will! If you scorn mundane duties, you are missing God’s gift to you, the gift of your calling.

And while raising those rutabagas, remember that the success of the harvest is not, strictly speaking, your concern. Have I worked the soil and fertilized it? Am I up early, watering the seeds I have scattered? Do I weed diligently? Do I protect the seedlings from birds and deer? Do I train the vines up trellises? And at the end of a long, hot day, is there nothing substantial to be harvested from my garden?

I’m sure you can remember some words that you’ve written that no one seemed to want to read, some advice that you’ve given that no one ever responded to, a song that you’ve sung that never really caught on, the class you taught that just didn’t light a fire under any of the students…. A verse from “Eleanor Rigby” hangs like smog over the stunted rows of our efforts:

Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave

No one was saved.

Paul, John – look at it this way: Father McKenzie answered the call to the priesthood. He studied hard at seminary. He, by the grace of God, did not succumb to temptations. He was ordained, and served faithfully in a lukewarm parish for many years, putting his heart and soul into homilies that few came to Mass to hear. His parishioner Eleanor died. She wasn’t saved, and neither were many others under his care. Father McKenzie can still hope to hear those precious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” because the success of Father’s mission was never his to worry about – he was called to be faithful. When Fr. McK bemoaned Miss Rigby’s lack of response, I imagine that Jesus responded with a quiet “And what is that to you? You follow Me.”

That, I suspect, is something that Lennon and McCartney couldn’t fathom.

After all, in the end, all we will have to offer to God will be our service inspired by our love of Him Who loved us first. It is that service, that work in the garden, which matters. Some of us have an easy row to hoe; some of us really don’t. But the growing season is short, my friend, and winter approaches.


Gardener, get planting!


On the memorial of St. Phocas the Gardener

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits:

Seaside Garden by *Susie*/sue/chasetheclouds, London and Hampshire, UK

Bauerngarten im Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof/Schwarzwald by Metzner

Rutabaga, nadmorska variety, by Picasa user Seedambassadors

Orchis militaris by BerndH

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