Posted July 03, 2012 in New Millennium:
Radishes in the Garden of the New Evangelization

by Fr. David May.

I had never been called a radish before. I was listening to an intelligent and entertaining speaker talk about her journey from the gay lifestyle to full communion with the Catholic Church.

Suddenly, she came up with a new image of Madonna House and its role in proclaiming the Gospel: "You are the radishes in the garden of the new evangelization. You were up and ready to pick before anyone else even germinated."

I’ve been thinking about radishes ever since (not only, of course, but now and again). We even purchased a few lately to nibble on at a closing supper the directors had together at the end of our annual meetings in May. Fortunately, they were mild, and not too peppery.

Radishes have never been known to leave much of an impression on people, even those who enjoy munching on them before dinner. After all, at best they are an hors d’oeuvre or something tossed into a green salad.

They never make the main course, and after a fancy meal of several courses, how often have you heard someone say, "Weren’t those radishes delicious?"

No. Even radish connoisseurs have by then forgotten all about them, having passed on to greater things, like meat, potatoes, buttered asparagus, a mild cheese, black forest cake, fresh brewed coffee, and a nice liqueur.

We have to go back to the garden itself to seek out the true meaning and glory of the lowly radish. As our speaker noted, in the spring they are one of the first things up, not minding and probably preferring cooler weather.

Suddenly, there is something fresh to eat; and if you haven’t been buying fresh veggie nibblies all winter long imported from New Zealand or southern Chile, radishes can be a real treat.

Winter is finished at last, and the first promises of spring have been fulfilled while most of the rest of the garden is just getting going. At least that’s the way things are in more northern latitudes like where we are here in Ontario.

Of course, that brings us to the question of what it means to be called a radish. Providing it wasn’t meant as an insult, I think it can be taken as a compliment.

Thanks to the prophetic courage and vision of Catherine Doherty and those with her at the time, Madonna House was one of the earlier of the new type community within the Church.

Men, women, and priests living as one family—now that was unusual at the time and for the most part, still is. Laypeople consecrated to God with promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience was also unheard of.

Even today people like canonists are still trying to figure out just what that means. Other aspects of our community could also be listed.

So, there you have it: something fresh, early, and "tasty" (to some, admittedly, not to all) in the history of the modern Church.

But there is another implication to all this that has yet to be considered: once a radish, always a radish?

It’s one thing to be an actual radish, to get eaten and enjoyed, and that’s the end of the story. But if you are a permanent radish in the garden of the new evangelization, that’s quite a lowly position if you think about it.

Personally, I’d rather be a slice of roast beef, nice and tender and juicy, slathered in hot gravy with a little spoonful of horseradish on the side for a bit of class.

I’m not sure how that would translate into a Church document on the New Evangelization, so I’ll leave such matters up to the bishops attending the Synod on that topic this coming October.

But maybe it has something to do with being important, with really making a difference that one can see and touch and measure in the current culture wars.

Everywhere you look, it seems like there is greater and greater hostility towards traditional Christianity from society and from governments.

There is a battle to be fought at a time when there is also, according to Pope Benedict, a crisis of faith itself. Thus the Church is, in so many respects, kind of poor and weak and broken at this time. In other words, there is so much to be done! And God wants me to remain a radish at such a time?

Okay, let’s try this out. Why is it that Madonna House continues to "go about its business" of welcoming people, doing laundry, planting gardens, celebrating the liturgy as beautifully and faithfully as we can, repairing buildings and mostly secondhand cars, cooking simple healthy meals, and serving the multitudes with same in the course of the year?

Does not the current state of crisis in Church and world merit at least a bit of panic and a change of course, maybe radical, in the direction an apostolate like ours might take?

Maybe. But probably not. We do carry it all every day in our prayer and awareness. We do send forth people to give talks and teachings. There are those among us who even write books now and again or go to conferences of one kind or another.

Yet, I remember with a smile the tactic Madonna House took in Liberia at our house many years ago during the beginnings of the horrific civil war in that country and before we had to leave. Our area was being bombed, and we were doing what we could to obtain help for people, such as distributing basic food.

But the director of the house was also concerned that our floor was looking rather dull and unwelcoming to guests, and so was in the process of ordering new tiles—something brighter, more beautiful, more welcoming for the poor and anyone else crossing our threshold.

Someone else in the house continued to try and carry on correspondence via an old typewriter—clickety-clack, clickey-clack, ring—clickety-clack, clickety-clack, ring—while the bombs fell nearby.

In other words, here was an island of domestic sanity and peace in the midst of an insanity of violence and chaos that was beginning to devour that nation.

Humble gestures, offered with love and faith. Prayers said or rather, prayer carried throughout the day. Welcoming neighbors. Being true to the Church and to her shepherds’ concerns. Placing all hope in God in the face of so many human hopes crumbling like dust in our hands.

Nothing fancy. Just a quiet proclaiming of the Gospel’s truth and beauty while hell rages at the very sight.

For strange as it may seem, the demons cannot bear the thought of little radishes popping up. Demons are threatened by them, by their optimism, by their bright green certitude that God’s springtime is just around the corner.

They know somehow that humble beginnings are but a portent of the great works God will yet do in our midst, even in our times.

Now that I’ve thought about it, being a radish for God isn’t such a bad prospect after all.


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