June is a month full of my favorite things. For us Catholics, it’s the month that we dedicate to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Also it’s the month I relish smelling honeysuckle waft in the air on long summer evenings, and my strawberry patch bursting with ruby red jewels of fat, sweet strawberries.
As the Bible starts in a garden with only two people, my strawberry patch started in a similar manner with only two plants. I firmly nestled them into a corner of a backyard garden box, where also resided lettuce and peas. The strawberry plants eventually thrived and spread prodigiously, sending off shoots that took root.
They persistently continued to spread, overtaking the lettuce and crowding out the peas. At first, I tried to prune them and keep them contained to their corner, but they would not have it. I finally relented, giving the garden box over to become a strawberry patch.
Every June, I’m rewarded with overflowing bowls of berries. I venture out to the garden in the early evenings with an empty bowl in hand, the scent of honeysuckle in the air. The sun is less harsh, but there’s still plenty of daylight left for berry picking.
There are always berries easily seen hanging on the perimeter, though many have already been partially eaten, the victims of resident birds. I salvage the survivors.
My search becomes more challenging, and I burrow deeper into the thick of the berry patch. I must carefully separate leaves in order to find the ripe berries. As my search brings me deeper into the darker depths, I search among the dead leaves and detritus to find beautiful berries in their shadows. I’m reminded of how Jesus must search for his lambs who have been swallowed by worldly shadows and lost their way. I make sure none are left behind, as I’m sure Jesus does.
I carry an overflowing bowl back to the house, passing by stalks of spearmint swaying in the breeze. I dump the bowl into a colander and shower the berries with cold water from the kitchen sink faucet, purifying them from the dirt and debris of the garden.
I evenly spread the berries along a kitchen counter lined with dry towels. I daintily dab them with another dry towel, discarding berries which are too badly bruised. With partially bruised berries, I slice off the bruises and they find new life in a strawberry sauce over mounds of vanilla ice cream. Theirs is a story of renewal, much like the feeling I experience when emerging from the sacrament of reconciliation or penance.
I gather the berries deemed worthy, placing them into a clean bowl. I admire their vivid color and plump shapes. I regard each berry as a work of art by the Creator. As stated by St. Therese of Lisieux, “Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God.”
I select one berry after another, holding it up to the kitchen light, admiring it from different angles. I see something familiar in each berry as it’s bathed in light. I notice how a strawberry looks like a heart, not the kind of heart on a Valentine’s Day card or hanging from a silver chain, but an actual human heart!
The leaves atop the strawberry, though green, resemble flames. I can imagine the crown of thorns encircling the red girth of the berry.
I realize I’m holding in my hand the Sacred Heart of Jesus … in a strawberry! My strawberry patch faithfully bears ripe fruit the beginning of every June, the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Strawberry has been my favorite fruit since childhood, and I’m what’s referred to as a “Cradle Catholic,” yet I never noticed the similarity of the strawberry to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I also never noticed how my backyard garden was like the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis in the Bible. I never realized how picking berries brought me closer to Jesus’ Sacred Heart.
I think I never noticed these things because, like many, I often fell victim to the hectic pace of life. My pre-pandemic life was one of crammed calendars and frequently feeling overwhelmed by commitments, laundry and grocery shopping.
My pandemic lifestyle became slower and quieter. I found daily time for praying the rosary. When I was able to attend Mass again, I cherished it even more because of the months that I could only watch it remotely from home. I spent more time in my home and backyard garden instead of the maze of shopping malls.
When everything I considered normal life fell away, it was me alone with Jesus in the garden.
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