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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | The butterfly protector club

I recently received a conspiratorial note from a reader of my regular column on aleteia.com. It said, “Dear Father, I’m a butterfly protector, too!” Along with the note was a picture of a chrysalis hanging from the branch of a potted plant that she’d covered with protective netting. She didn’t want a bird to attack the butterfly as it was vulnerable inside the chrysalis.

She was responding to an essay I’d written about how my young daughters have recently become the self-appointed protectors of several butterflies in formation. Each day, they check in at the parsley plant by our back door to be sure they’re safe and sound. They’ve learned everything they can about butterflies and what happens inside the chrysalis, even to the point of chastising me for unwittingly calling the chrysalis a cocoon. Only moths make cocoons, the toddler patiently explained to me. These girls have done all they can, from feeding the caterpillars parsley leaves during their active stage to putting a net around the plant once they began metamorphosis.

When a caterpillar spins itself into a chrysalis, it devotes all its energy to transfiguring itself into a butterfly. The change is so drastic it’s almost as if the creature that emerges has no connection whatsoever with the creature that entered. It’s a fascinating process.

It’s also a painfully slow process. A butterfly doesn’t grow wings overnight.

As a father, I’ve become keenly aware of the small changes taking place in my children, how they learn and adapt, and how they mature and take in new knowledge. It has been especially gratifying that some of the older children have developed true devotion for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sometimes they even go to confession or a holy hour without me coming up with the idea. These children grow up so fast, so imperceptibly, that it hardly seems to be happening until it’s already done. Before my astonished eyes, they rip the chrysalis to shreds and spread their wings.

At first, my daughter had to show me where to look because a chrysalis is hard to spot. Butterflies are in formation all around us, but we must pause and look slowly and patiently if we wish to spot them. Especially as our children develop a nascent spiritual life. See it. Take it seriously. Guard it as a precious treasure.

The contents of the chrysalis are a cipher. A butterfly will someday emerge. As I look at the chrysalis, a seemingly lifeless thing, I hold this knowledge by faith. I have no clue how it happens. Who knows? In the same way, who knows by what mysterious grace these children of ours grow, how and why their souls unfold the way they do. Day after day, they are with us. They seem the same, and yet, they’re in the process of a delicate and dynamic process. Their souls are in constant motion, reaching and grasping to arrive at the fullness of potential that God has placed within them.

These children are butterflies. We are their protectors.

Father Michael Rennier is pastor 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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