Rites of spring go as far back in history as we know it. Myths and legends, maypoles and dancing celebrate the longer days and warmer temperatures. The first sight of budding trees and flowers sprouting up, while snow still covers the ground, gives the promise of spring in all its beauty. Even Scripture delights in the season:
“See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.”
(Song of Songs 2:11-13)
The blossoming fruit trees are such a gift to all our senses. Tulips and daffodils are not just a luxury of the suburbs or the country. City homes have window boxes or a small patch of green with the flowers standing tall and leaning toward the sun. Musicians and artists have composed and performed, drawn and painted their experiences and reactions to spring’s abundance of beauty.
With this flowering beauty in parks and town greens, a spectacular sight drew my eye early one morning. On the top steps of a city church, about 12 steps up, a few pansies grew from the midst of concrete. There was no sign of soil or dirt of any kind. Those few purple and yellow flowers poked their gorgeous velvet faces for all to see.
Consider the pansies growing from the church steps; then consider a beautifully manicured garden of pansies. Is the individual flower more beautiful in the garden than in the concrete? Could we gaze with awe at the garden pansy and step over the one on the steps? The location neither diminishes the beauty of the flower nor enhances it. The flower is beautiful because the flower is beautiful.
Now, consider the homeless man hanging out on the same church steps where the pansies are growing; and consider the well-heeled who walk into the church for prayer or Mass. Is one person more valuable than another? Does one deserve less attention than the other? Is one to be ignored and the other greeted? Is one a nuisance or perhaps inconvenient while the other is guest?
What might be obvious with regard to the pansies may be less so with regard to the homeless person. A pansy is beautiful wherever it grows. A person is a child of God no matter the circumstances of his or her life. It is a mystery why perfectly competent people become uncomfortable in the presence of abject poverty in another person.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to help the man who was beaten by robbers and left to die on the side of the road. Part of the story is that two influential religious people had walked by the man first. Jesus was showing us the beauty that can arise out of places where we least expect it. And Jesus was clear that his followers do not walk by those in need.
The first step is to see the homeless or desperate around us, not to cross the street to avoid them. The next step is to greet them. It costs nothing to say “Good Morning.” What else we can do depends on circumstances and each unique situation. What is clear immediately is that if we ignore the needy person at the church entrance, we might as well not go into the church. We won’t find Jesus in the tabernacle when we have just avoided him at the door.
Sister Patricia McCarthy currently teaches Math at a Catholic School. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.
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