Tag Archives: garden

St Phocas the Gardener

Today we remember St. Phocas the Gardener. He is the patron of farmers, fieldworkers, agriculture, and gardeners. He was a man connected to his land and to his neighbor, and who understood ecology in the deep sense of not living just for oneself but for all. He was both a bishop and a simple farmer, and he devoted everything he grew to be given to the poor.

He is also the patron of hospitality. When soldiers came looking for him to execute him for being a Christian, he welcomed them with open arms, and practicing the command of Christ to love one’s enemies, he fed them and treated them as Christ himself. The soldiers did not realize that their host was the same Phocas they were to execute, and St. Phocas promised them that he would help them find their target.

When Phocas revealed himself to them, they were reluctant to kill him. Phocas, however, refused to fight them or to hinder their duty, and instead invited the soldiers to do what they were there to do, offering his neck. For this he was martyred.

St. Phocas is also the patron of sailers. There is an old sailing custom whereby at each meal, a portion is set aside called ‘St. Phocas portion.’ This portion is sold and the money collected is donated to the poor whenever port is reached. In this way, Phocas’ love for strangers, enemies, the poor, the land, and his neighbors continued to extend even past his death.

Holy Phocas, pray for us!

thanks to In Communion

Gardening is good for you

Indeed, working in the soil is a good you on many levels, not least on the spiritual and affective levels. We know getting out in the fresh air and working is good exercise. Experience tells me that our whole disposition changes for the better. There is a story that when a certain Dominican nun who was having a difficult day with the novices, she would go to the garden in her monastery. Sr. Columba also encouraged the novices to do the same.

This past week I’ve been settling my commitment to my small agriculture for 2018 with the ordering of some new bee hives, placing an order for new honey bee colonies. This year, I am getting a new species of honey bee from Canada called Saskatraz. This past year I year I had some sort of Russian-mix bee. But I had some issues with the colonies and it’s very possible that only one of three colonies survived.

I have adopted the motto: save the honey, save the church. You could also replace “church” with “culture” or “the family.”

Committing oneself to the honey bee is a commitment to a 100 million year history of life. The honey bee is one of the most amazing insects God has given us! You can’t underestimate the importance of the honey bee in human and animal life. And yet, we humans are not too aware of our actions that obstruct or even kill the bee due to shallow desires like the eradication of dandelions and white clover. Nevertheless, I am doing my part. I daily pray for my honey bees and I have developed an affection for them.

Likewise, I am beginning to organize my mind on what may be planted. With all the seed catalogs I’ve received there is no shortage of ideas; there is a shortage in space and energy to do the work.

Back in November 2017 I planted approximately 15 pounds of garlic in the various gardens I oversee.

As a side note, I ran across a CNN article on the papal garden. Now while the Pope says he’s committed to good ecology and the connection with Faith, he doesn’t personally plant and tend the garden on his 62 acre farm. A shame. But the Roman Pontiffs of recent years have had some sort of garden at the summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, just outside of Rome feeding the pope and his guests. Yet, there is a good example set by Pope Francis in is his desire for fresh food. Apparently, he gets a daily basket of fresh produce which may include seasonal items like broccoli and cauliflower but he also gets handmade cheeses, milk, eggs and yogurt are also made fresh each day.

The papal farm has seven farmers and several nuns who make high-quality olive oil cold-pressed by granite stone from a 1000 olive trees (some dating back to AD 1200), 30 cows, and chickens for nutrient dense eggs and meat. Here’s a brief video.

Lots of work to be done in the next 69 days.

Farming, faith and eating well: initiatives

Brooklyn Grange Roof

Interest in growing fresh vegetables and farming is real life these days in many urban settings.There is significant concern for wellness issues like where is our food coming from and how is it raised. The impact of bad practices and careless behavior is taking a toll on people in a multiplicity of ways: poverty, hunger, cancer, mental illness, human sustainability, and the like.

City farming is the subject of this video report by Monocle. It provides some very interesting things to think about like, space, soil, nutrients, people, being co-creators, etc. The three reports given in the Monocle video look at innovative work in Japan, NYC and Norway. Watch the report. In the New Haven area there are some community gardens sprouting up, for example, Yale University has a community garden the Yale Farm (Edwards Street) and then there are lots of modest initiatives. Plus, the growing of farmers’ markets.

I have a modest garden with edibles and decoratives. But I can’t sustain a family on what I grow. I have learned to make pickles from homegrown cucumbers, and I will can tomatoes, but if I had other favorable factors I could do more. My grandparents would be proud since that’s how they managed to live.  What I have concluded is that life is much better with homegrown produce than what is purchased in big stores like Walmart and Big Y. Well, that’s for the spring and summer. Come the autumn and winter we have to go back to the store.

But this matter is a part of a larger question of faith and ecology. The biblical and sacramental life of the Church have something to say to us today. In my mind, Christians have to reclaim what it means to live well with with what God has given through a sacramental lens. For this reason, I am thinking more and more about the role the Benedictines can play in the development of a faith and ecology project. The Benedictine charism is one in which simplicity, faith, work, study, mutual obedience, concern for the other and co-creation with God are high values. Plus, the monastic life with its emphasis on moderation lived in communion with others is key. I would also include the ecclesial movements of Communion & Liberation and Focolare as key infrastructures of grace and holiness. With a few spare moments here-and-there I am trying to think about a Christian’s response to the matter of food, wellness, farming, and the like. People like Ken Myers (Mars Hill Audio Journal), Norman Wirzba (Duke Divinity School), Fred Bahnson (Wake Forest Divinity School) and Wendell Berry (public intellectual) along with Pope Benedict XVI are setting the stage for new things.

a small garden with a punch

the small garden 2011.jpgFather Giussani spoke of sacrifice in our context as including what we do with our spare time. When we have time to spare, do we read, do we pray, do we spend quality time with family, friends, or our beloved, do we watch hours of TV, or, do we help the poor and needy? How we spend our free time reveals who we are as persons. How we use time speaks of our values and how we flourish.

Some of my free time –which time is a premium these days– is spent with two gardens. Spending time in the garden is relaxing and keeps me grounded (pun intended) and it allows me to unwind, and to pray. Plus, it keeps me connected with my heritage. My grandparents would be so proud.

My large garden is a flower garden (under the patronage of St Francis of Assisi) and the small garden (see above is under the patronage of St Fiacre) is a vegetable garden.
Thus far, I’ve harvested lots of cucumbers of which I made pickles but some went to salads, others went to family and other cukes went to a local monastery. Tomatoes are coming now; I had my first two yesterday. AND, I picked my first cayenne pepper for my pickles today and I am waiting for my habaneros. Oh, yea, my horseradish is finally showing signs of growth.
homemade pickles 2011.jpgToday, the leaks replaced the cucumbers and the squash plants are growing daily.

The pickles I made two weeks ago are delicious, if I say so myself; they have a slight kick due to the hot peppers added and garlic. The pickle recipe comes from my friend and colleague Tom.
Today’s pickle batch were prepared for a CL picnic at the end of the month.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT, follows the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and is an Oblate of Saint Benedict, works as a monastery farmer and a keeper of honey bees. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
coat of arms