When I first lived in Saint Louis in 1978, I was stunned to find November roses blooming at the botanical garden. In my northeastern childhood home, there were numerous rose bushes in the yard, but none of them blossomed very deeply into autumn. Temperatures were simply too cold. On December 2, 1980, four Catholic Church women, whose lives of service and faith took them to El Salvador, were murdered in the waves of violence that shook that Central American nation. Before that December day, one of the women had affectionately said about El Salvador: “Only in El Salvador do roses bloom in December.” It has been thirty-five years since the deaths of Dorothy, Ita, Jean, and Maura. Every December 2nd I remember the El Salvador roses.
On December 2, 2015, I officiated at the funeral and burial for Wanda, a woman new to Mayfield. At the cemetery in Dwight, Illinois when the committal was completed, the funeral director handed a rose from the casket spray to each member of the family gathered at the graveside. One of the family members pulled out another rose and passed it to me. She had no idea December 2 is a day of roses for me.
In these Advent weeks before Christmas, we celebrate the beauty, love, and presence of God that bloom even in unlikely, unexpected, and unchosen places. The task is ours to build a stable place of welcome and safety for the divine coming. We do this internally when we commit to the steady spiritual shaping of our lives. We go about this externally through countless acts of relationship, mercy, justice, and transformation. The old German carol borrows language from the prophet Isaiah, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” How will we recognize and care for the roses of this December? Peace, Martha