Jesuits and azaleas
by Teresa McCaffery
I was in the church garden today digging up grass and planting shrubs when I wondered what kind of flowering shrubs Jesuits would be. The azaleas I was planting seemed quite a good fit:
They are covered in flowers in a wide variety of vibrant colours in summer. Some are evergreen, others have leaves that go through beautiful colour changes in autumn.
They are slow growing and naturally develop in pleasing shapes, they certainly need no pruning.
Their roots are slow growing too, which means they are easy to transplant and seem to suffer little setback from being moved.
They are very hardy, yet can be fragile; it’s easy to break off a branch by accident.
They will grow in most places but prefer an acid soil. This means that they can weaken and become pale; a problem easily resolved with a dose of iron.
Most big gardens have an azalea bed somewhere, but they can overwhelm a smaller garden, it takes care and thought to fit azaleas in with other plants.
Like azaleas, Jesuits have masses of talents, not all of them obviously spiritual. A Jesuit is always colourful and interesting if you can get him to talk, but also presents a quiet, calm background. They can be a great asset in the autumn of their days.
A Jesuit’s long spiritual formation can be viewed as an example of ‘slow growth’.
The compact root ball of the azalea allows it to be carefully lifted with relative ease. Jesuits too have a firm grip on the environment they live in, but take care not to form undue attachments. They can be uplifted, changing jobs and countries if necesssary, without coming to harm.
Jesuits may be as hardy as the azalea, but they also celebrate an awful lot of martyrs. Massive Jesuit missions have disappeared almost without trace because people had no idea of their true value.
Jesuits often do a very good job among the ‘acid soil’ of the rich and powerful, conditions not conducive to spiritual growth in the rest of us, but it does put them at risk. The Jesuit, Fr Browne, about to sail for America on the Titanic was simply told in a telegram to ‘get off that boat!’. His father provincial did not know about the impending encounter with an iceberg, but he did know the dangers of spending weeks on a luxury liner in the company of very rich people. Discipline, when (rarely) used, is absolute.
I am sometimes saddened by the dismissive, even suspicions attitudes good catholics may have towards Jesuits. We need to remember that all flowers are beautiful and the smaller, daintier, more transient ones need space to look their best too.