A letter came in the mail about two weeks ago reminding me that in addition to raking the lawn, planting lettuce, onions, and radishes, and airing up the bicycle tires, another important ritual of spring, at least in our Catholic tradition, is the blessing of fields and gardens. The correspondent no longer lives or farms in the area, no longer farms for that matter, but like so many does own part of what used to be the family farm. He provided a photocopy of the atlas page showing his property, highlighted the directions to it, even noted which roads in the area were passable, and politely asked if I would please find time to stop by the field and bless it around the Feast of St. Isidore the Farmer on May 15.
The custom of blessing fields and gardens is one way in which we recognize that we are really stewards of the land and that God is the land’s true owner. We feed our families and the world through the fruits of our labors on the land. We ask God to provide the other elements we need for those labors to succeed rain, sun, freedom from storm damage, pestilence, and drought. We ask the Lord to help us be mindful of the need to be safe with the equipment and practices we use for our own sake and the sake of neighbors current and future. Is it possible we could leave the land in a better, more productive state, than when we first moved on to it? That is, after all, our ultimate goal as caretakers of what another has entrusted to us, and an expression of our gratitude for being trusted with something so precious.
I remember my dad collecting the previous year’s braided Palm Sunday palms from around the house, replacing them with new braidings, burning the old palms and then sprinkling the ashes on the garden in our back yard. Our local Knights of Columbus councils have promoted placing a simple wooden cross in gardens and fields as a sign of the faith it takes to work the land in hope of making a living and feeding ourselves and our families. Rural Catholic communities also recall the weekdays leading up to the traditional celebration of the Ascension on the Thursday, 40 days after Easter. That Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday had a special name Rogation Days (days of asking). It was a time set aside for asking God to bless the work of spring, the preparing and planting of the fields. It was time to acknowledge our reliance on God’s gifts to meet our basic earthly needs just as we turn to God to fulfill our spiritual needs for forgiveness, hope, and the capacity to love.
Blessing, sprinkling ashes on, placing crosses in, taking time to acknowledge God’s work in our fields that make our endeavors possible is all part of awakening to spring. May the Lord bring your spring plantings to fruitfulness this summer.
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