Knowing now, about how to regard manual labour, let's continue our tour with a short drive up the hill to St. Benedict Acres, the Madonna House farm. The farm is our main source of food for the community, with cows, sheep, chickens and vegetables. It's a beautiful day to visit there, and “Saint Ben's,” as we call it, is the perfect place to hear Catherine Doherty's thoughts about apostolic farming:
A farm can be looked at from a hundred different angles, but for me it must always be from an apostolic angle. I look upon our farm as apostolic farming. By this, I simply mean that we are engaged in the occupation of farming because we want to spread the Good News by living the Gospel, and there is no better place to live the Gospel than on a farm.
When one thinks about it, Jesus was born in the countryside and he lived in the countryside most of his life. He wasn't a farmer, but his Gospel is filled with examples and parables taken from farming and the earth. He talked about vineyards, crops, grain and seeds. He talked about plowing and sowing and harvesting.
Why do we farm? Our first reason is because we have to eat. The simplest way is to work for it, by the sweat of our brows as we are supposed to do. So we farm for a reason seemingly utilitarian. Yet, it embodies the very essence of apostolicity: it brings us face to face with the fact that we are poor, that we have to work for the things we need, or do without them.
Apostolic farming is love that spills over into the earth — that gazes at the earth reverently. It knows that God has created it and that it is beloved by God. Apostolic farming is also the love of a person for his fellowman and for the earth, exemplified again and again in its very depths through the use of ingenuity.
Apostolic farming is a very slow process. It teaches farmers lessons which are not in any books. It strips them naked of many preconceived notions and makes them whole again. He who works with the earth from whence he came will be healed of his wounds. In a strange way, he is somehow deeply reconciled with God again and walks at eventide with him while they both look over the works of their hands.
Holy poverty should be the constant meditation of an apostolic farmer. Forever and forever he or she should ask, ‘How can I do without this? How can I substitute something less expensive?’ And you begin to see that, like a refrain, the strange phrase ‘ingenuity of love’ is at the heart of apostolic farming.
Nothing apostolic is ever beneath anyone. There was a time when so many people thought that farming was ‘beneath’ them, but that is impossible because every apostolic action has an eternal value. Tossing manure around has the same value as writing a thesis or working at any other occupation that appears to be cleaner. There is nothing dirty about farming. Everything the farmer deals with is clean and everything has a purpose. The manure is going to give us food for next year. The hog will be eaten. The cow will produce calves and give milk and meat. Everything on the farm leads to the feeding of mankind. How can it be dirty when it feeds the Temple of God and allows Christ to come and dwell in it?
Apostolic farming must be approached with great humility. The learned man — the really learned one — knows that he knows nothing or very little. The apostolic farmer understands the tranquillity of God's order, accepts it, and shares it. He is a man of integrity and he deals with things of integrity. There is nothing deceitful about a field. It grows straight and clean, for it comes from the hands of God.
The apostolic farmer is reverent with himself and with growing things, for he deals with the mystery of life. He touches God all the time in the mystery of nature and so can easily give God to others — for he is familiar with him. There are in the world two people who really touch God. The priest touches God in his very essence. The farmer touches God in his creation as it comes from his hands.
So apostolic farming in Madonna House has two aims. First, to provide food for the growing family that God sends. Second, to learn to farm so that we can go to the farthest end of the earth and produce food for men and children who have never known one day of freedom from the pangs of hunger.
The apostolic farmer talks to God and to our Blessed Mother and to St. Isidore, who were able to do so much with so little. So he is a man of prayer and he is a man of dreams, this apostolic farmer. For unless he dreams, he will not go very far. But his dreams must be dreamt in God. He must place all his dreams in God and ask him to make them come true. But he must not dream of making more money to build bigger barns, get more machinery, or make his life easier. He must dream of simpler ways so as to make the life of other people easier by using ingenuity as a sort of fruit of his dreams and his love for others.
Yes, deep are the roots of apostolic farming! Deep is the idea of apostolic farming! But its roots, deep as they are, like its fruits, are always God's, and they are fertilized with the things of God which are death to self, poverty, obedience, chastity, knowledge of the value of time, veneration for all creatures, seeds, and animals. Even the tools of farming should be as holy to the apostolic farmer as the vessels of the altar.
Catherine Doherty has written a book, Apostolic Farming: Healing the Earth, which we highly recommend if you would like to know more about the spirituality surrounding our farming at St. Benedict Acres.
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