An old legend about Easter is beautiful. It also presents Catholics with important questions as they celebrate the 50-day Easter season.
This is the legend. At the time of Jesus, a plant grew in abundance in Palestine, and it was a nuisance. It bore no fruit or grain that could be consumed for nourishment, unlike grapevines, fruit trees and wheat.
It was not pretty. Ungainly, it was a plain, long stalk, atop which was a “blossom” that was anything but becoming. At the center of this bloom was a large, dark, somewhat spiny structure of no benefit to anyone. All around this center, like a daisy, but not at all as lovely as a daisy, were petals. The petals were dark and brown.
To add to its unattractiveness, the blossom drooped as if it were weak, exhausted and defeated.
The Gospels say that the tomb of Jesus was in a garden (cf. Jn 19:41). According to the legend, despite the best efforts of the gardener, this ugly plant grew all around, spoiling the garden.
On Easter morning, this miserable plant witnessed the Resurrection. Jesus appeared as brilliant as “lightning” (Mt 28:3). The intense brightness miraculously changed the ugly plant forever. No longer did its blossom hang limp, but it stood boldly upright, energized by the sight it had seen. Its petals were transformed into golden yellow, absorbing and reflecting the burst of light that accompanied the Lord’s return to earthly life and victory over death.
Wonderfully, as the plant grew to maturity, its blossom shifted its position during the day, always following the sunlight, searching for another sight of Jesus. They call this plant the “sunflower.”
Lilies have become the preferred flower of Easter, but once upon a time, the bloom that represented the resurrection of Jesus was the sunflower.
Lent has come and gone. We are now celebrating the Easter season. What did Lent, and what does Easter, mean for Catholics? Think about the legend.
Humans, even baptized Catholics, may allow themselves to be as dark as was the sunflower before it saw Jesus.
The sight of Jesus is before us. None of us literally was in the garden on the outskirts of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago to witness the Resurrection, but the sight of Jesus, and the presence of Jesus, surround us.
Some years ago, at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal, two commentators were reporting news of the scandal on television. One scornfully asked the other, who identified himself as a Catholic, “So, this is your Church?” The other commentator answered, “Yes, it is my Church. My Church is peopled by sinners, bad sinners, but also in my Church are the most generous and caring people in the world when it comes to assisting the poor, hungry and desperate. My Church is the most constant and relentless entity on earth in combatting cruelty and hatred. Almost alone in our culture, it enthusiastically proclaims the majesty of human life. It celebrates as saints the heroically good, like St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Katherine Drexel.
“My Church teaches untold millions about how to find purpose and peace in their lives. It historically enabled the best in human ingenuity. It never hesitates in calling us to acknowledge God, to love God, and to love each other.
“Some people in my Church do bad things, even horrible things, but we label their misdeeds terrible because my Church wisely defines their conduct as terrible.”
“This indeed is my Church. In it, I see people who ignore God. I also see Jesus, loving, living and good.”
Has the sight of the risen Jesus changed us, as it changed the sunflower? Do we stand tall in our faith? Do we eagerly search for the Lord in our lives, for ways to make Jesus visible to others? Have our hearts absorbed Jesus? Because of our personal discipleship, are we golden in the gaze of others?
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.