The cool season of autumn is warmly greeted in my home. I am eager to take my kids to a pumpkin patch, have my husband haul our decorations out of the basement, and cheer on the Bears while we eat chips and dip. I look forward to the holidays that fall brings, a warmer wardrobe, cider, bonfires, and s’mores.
But my favorite part of autumn, I have recently come to learn, is that it surrounds all of us with Death. The leaves are changing color and dropping off the trees, curling as they dry and crumbling as my children play in them. The sweet corn harvest is long over and now the farmers are in their fields, gathering the grain. Where once stood 7 foot high corn, strong and richly green, now there is only acres of golden-brown stalk remnants, waiting to be tilled into the earth.
Autumn, at least in my neck of the woods, is a good, strong reminder that we will die and that it can be beautiful. It can be holy. Whether we are slowly aging or being crippled much too young we, as Catholics, know that we can look to the Cross and offer to God the gift of our pain, our grieving, our flickering light. We know that, because He has given us this cross, we can bear its weight and glorify Him in it.
As a mom, I appreciate this. I am glad for a natural introduction to discuss death to my children. Of course, my oldest is now 3 and the only things she knows about death is that Jesus died for our sins and when we die we go to Heaven to be with Him. But as my kids age I can point out to them the changing leaves, and with a little help from my science teacher husband, explain how the leaves stop making food and begin to dry up and die. The leaves are beautiful – evidence to many of the glory of our Lord – and there is great dignity and value in the way they die. As John Paul the Great wrote, “It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the kingdom of God.”
Autumn will end and eventually our suffering will too. Winter is hard – the feet of snow, the cold, biting wind; one grey day after another; the bleakness. But there is always spring. We will return from exile. God willing, we will spend an endless length of days in our true native land.
P.S. I would like to thank my friend Katie, a catechist and farm girl, for her help on this post. Also, I really did have my science teacher husband explain why the leaves die to make sure I was correct. So thanks for the help, babe!
P.P.S. Next week I plan to write about re-claiming Halloween. I thought we could all list our favorite saint costume, but not just St. Patrick
with a miter and a shamrock or Mother Teresa with white sheets edged in blue sharpie. I’m thinking creative. Like St. Bartholomew; paint your self red and carry around your flayed skin. Or St. Lawrence: attach your oven rack to your mid-section and go around telling people, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”
You’ve got a week to think of your favorites! This should be fun!