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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | God’s menagerie reflects God’s glory

“A light exists in spring,” writes Emily Dickinson, “when March is scarcely here.”

The sunrise is starting to spread color around the bell tower of the church in the mornings. Life is stirring underneath the fallow winter soil, and the cherry trees are about to burst into a riot of dusty pink leaves. The crocuses and snowdrops are already racing to announce Easter.

For me, the topic of spring is far too sprawling and sacred to write about. I lack the skill to describe such a great mystery, the way in which God is found in the freshest deep-down heart of the world, how everything is God-shaped and sparkles like a mirror reflecting heaven itself. It seems to me that even the dirt clods my children play with as they search for worms in the garden break apart and reveal shining gold.

I can, however, gush on about smaller topics such as all the bright and beautiful inhabitants of God’s menagerie.

I can tell you how much I love a honeybee. I recently learned there are beehives on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and they miraculously survived the fire. A monk once saved all the bees in England. This was in 1916, when predatory mites invaded and began destroying the hives. The monk, a man named Brother Adam, bred a new type of bee that resisted the invasion. I was once in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and noticed that there are honeybees decorating the great, bronze canopy over the high altar. Little bronze bees climb all the way up. The Church has always loved bees because they make the wax for our candles. Like the Blessed Virgin, they love flowers and gardens. Their wax symbolizes purity.

There are pelicans whose mothers are rumored to pierce their own breast and feed their young with their own lifeblood in times of famine. The self-sacrifice of pelicans has made them an image of Christ.

The dove descends on the bright wing of the Holy Spirit. The path that her flight traces through the sky is like an ancient, hidden language that God etches into the sky just for us. It’s a message meant only for those who will stand and watch, only for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Pope Leo X had an elephant named Hanno. Hanno was a gift from the King of Portugal, and when he arrived at the Vatican after joyfully trampling 70 miles worth of fields and village walls on his way from the coast, he knelt down and trumpeted three times. After that, he plunged his trunk into a fountain, filled it with water, and sprayed it all over the Holy Father. Pope Leo loved that elephant.

The riotous joy of life cannot be held back. In the sound of bees buzzing I can almost hear God laughing. Upon everything lingers a light, a yearning to praise the Creator. It’s very difficult to write about because the God who gives us that light is glorious beyond words.

Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.

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