While at the riverfront in Chattanooga the other day, waiting for my parishioner to get out of surgery, and while having ferocious spiritual discussions with a priest who came down from Knoxville for the day, this popcorn tree (I don’t know what it’s called) presented itself for a picture, ever so happy to be a popcorn tree, to be given to the Immaculate Conception. I think this is why Saint Francis is said to have appreciated nature so very much (and every Franciscan I know has agreed with me on this), nature just does what its supposed to do by nature, but we don’t. We’ve chosen to do the wrong thing with original sin and whatever our sin is. But, with God’s graciously given grace, we can take a good example from nature.
“If only we were all popcorn trees!” is not an exclamation, however, which the Lord wishes to hear from us. He doesn’t want us to escape the fact that He is our Savior because, in fact, we needed to be saved. Rather, he wants us to have the joy of thanking Him in heaven. And that’s what the hell-week training we get throughout our lives on this earth is all about: getting ready to say the biggest thank you we can with all the honesty we can muster after having come to learn whence our Lord has snatched us. All the saints were trained up in this utter mayhem, with all hell broken out on Calvary even as our Lord drew them and is drawing us to Himself across that hell of Calvary, even while all that hell continues and even while He has us learn to look to Him while we’re being dragged to Himself, while we learn to see the love He has for us by taking our place so as to have the right in justice to snatch us up to Himself, and then to give us as a gift to our Heavenly Father.
But let’s take the example of our Lady, who also only did what she was by nature, her soul exulting in the Lord. We might think she’s a bit too much like the popcorn tree, not knowing the hell that we know, you know, because she’s the Immaculate Conception and doesn’t know what it is to have untoward temptation issuing from the weakness consequent to original sin. She doesn’t know, we might think, about the lifetime hell-week in which all the saints have been trained up for heaven. We might think we have been left apart because, I mean, how could she possibly rush to our aid as a good mother is wont to do if she has no idea about the hell of weakness we face, day-in, day-out? “She’s just a popcorn tree!” we might be tempted to say in all despair.
Here’s what she said: “My soul exults in the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” And this is the truth of it: because sin never touched her from the first moment of conception onward, and because it should have because of Adam’s sin, but didn’t because Jesus stood in her stead as He did with all of us, taking on what we deserve because of that sin (time not something which matters as that’s just another creature in God’s hands), she, seeing clearly, unlike us, with all purity of heart and agility of soul, she more than anyone can see that she was the one for whom Jesus laid down His life and was tortured to death. Yes, the Immaculate Conception was redeemed and saved, and she exults in the Lord, rejoicing in God her Savior.
If any of us weaklings saw what she saw while standing under the cross and actually understood it as she did utterly understand this most sacred Mystery, we instead would be crushed by the weight of the great glory of the love of God for us. And her heart was pierced through, more than we could ever know. If anyone has had a glimpse of whence he or she’s been saved, it is the Immaculate Conception.
We think we know what hell-week is like. We are such absolute total idiots. We have no idea. The little that our Lord has permitted us see of the hell so that we could thank Him for saving us in heaven is as nothing compared to the hell she saw and experienced.
So, does she know how to be a good mother, how to rush to our aid in our own going through a bit of hell-week while we are on this earth? Yes, she does. More than we could possibly understand. So much so, in fact, that in all our simplicity and silliness, when we rip off a branch or two from a popcorn tree and arrange this in a little pot of water and put this before one of her images, saying by this that we know we aren’t as good as the popcorn tree in doing what we are supposed to do, but would like to be trained in to do this, and saying by this that we are thankful that she always did what she was supposed to do, calling her blessed throughout our generations, she, then, can only bring us close to herself, right into the Holy Family.
She knows that in heaven we’ll be doing what we are supposed to do with God’s graciously given supernatural grace, with much more rejoicing than any popcorn tree could possibly be happy. And we can be happy about her being blessed, however weak we are. Yes.