The ornamental tree above was planted in front of the rectory, in front of the Immaculate Conception, by none other than the prestigious president of the Andrews Garden Club, who is just finishing up work on becoming a Master Gardener. I am merely a self-proclaimed honorary member of the Garden Club (that was because of the trucks), as it is rather well known that I don’t have a green thumb. You simply have it or you don’t. I don’t. My mom did, but not me. This tree is calculated to stay just this small. I like it. I like it a lot. It being that it is what is for the Immaculate Conception is important, although there are the beetles…
Being me, I have to say that the things that are found in gardens, like this monstrosity of a ground beetle, are also way cool. I don’t mean to insult the beetle, but this reminds me of being in Calcutta in the early-mid 1980s, waking up in a hostel dormitory when someone came in and turned the lights on. The first thing I noticed was that I was covered head to toe with cockroaches, including face and eyes, and then that the walls had changed to a brown color and were moving… because of the unfathomable multitude of cockroaches in the room. After swiping at a few more cockroaches running across my face, the light having been turned out, I just went back to sleep. This went on for a couple of weeks. I didn’t mind. What I was doing in Calcutta was incomparably more important than being worried about a few bugs. What I was doing there was like giving flowers to the Immaculate Conception. What I was doing is cleaning diarrhea off dying people’s bottoms.
Just to say: a priest can hear pretty much anywhere on the street in Italy the insult: “Vattene via scarafaggio pretino che sei!” (Go away, cockroach of a little priest that you are!) That’s O.K. We deserve worse. We’ve crucified the Son of the Living God with our sin. Look at Judas’ betrayal, at Peter’s denial… I wonder if anyone else sins… Anyway, Jesus forgives us if we want to be forgiven. The Immaculate Conception interceded for us. And I, for one, am happy to have been called a cockroach of a little priest when I was in Rome at the end of the years of lead. I had three close encounters with the Red Brigade, two in Italy and one, I just now remembered, in Nicaragua, but I digress. It’s a laughable insult compared to telling me the truth about myself, namely, that I’ve crucified Jesus. When we die, and our guardian angels tell us that we’ve crucified the Son of the Living God, we will be crushed by the truth of it, unless we also hear from Jesus – “Yes, he did, but I forgave him; let him in” – saying this to the great amazement – and joy – of the angels.
Anyway, it’s now well over two weeks since Amoris laetitia has been published. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more sorrowful time in my entire priesthood, never so betrayed, never so negated in everything I love about the priesthood, never so much feeling like nothing more than a cockroach. I love being a priest, and because of that, all of this is galvanizing me, it’s bringing me in all the deeper, into the depths. In the galvanizing process, if you didn’t know, the object is placed into the depths of molten zinc at 815-850 F (435-455 C). I rebel at this, of course, wanting to jump out. Have you ever seen a half-galvanized cockroach? We half-galvanized cockroaches get rusty, you know.
In the end, what’s important is that Mary got her “Flores for the Immaculate Conception” for today! Putting up with the cockroaches, even myself, is simply negligible distraction compared to being able to give something beautiful to the Immaculate Conception.