In our Syriac tradition, it is said that when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus, she thought that he was the gardener, because in fact He is. The tradition makes a connection between the Book of Genesis showing God walking in the Garden of Eden, while St John also has Our Lord walking and in the Garden of the Resurrection.
And so, in our tradition, the Lord is the gardener of souls. Just as a gardener plants the flowers, the shrubs, and the fruit trees in his garden, cares for them, raises them, and decides when to pluck, harvest or cut them down, so too does Our Lord watch over and govern the destinies of our souls.
And it is no mystery that Mary Magdalene should have seen the gardener of souls in a graveyard, for the Resurrection turns death into life, and the seed of the soul becomes a tree. Whether a person lives for one day, one year or one hundred years, their life represents the complete journey of a soul, in the eyes of the Lord.
There is another dimension to this, which we can draw out from the teaching: God planted the Garden of Eden, and gave it to humanity to care for, making Adam and Eve his stewards in the garden. So too, we have responsibility for our own souls, and for the influences we bring to bear on the souls of those nearest us, and with whom we come into contact.
I think this relates to what I said last week about the Ascension: the angels said to the apostles not to keep looking up at heaven after the Lord had disappeared, but to get on with their duty in life without forgetting why they were here, or that the Lord had gone up to the Father to prepare a place for them.
We have a duty to do: so let us do it well. We have people to care for as well as ourselves, so let us do it so well that people say: “I wish there were more Catholics!” Some duties are imposed by the necessity of just staying alive, well-fed, well-clothed and well-housed, others naturally come about through ties of love for our family members and close friends, while others are of a more supernatural, because the love of Christ urges us to serve Him by assisting the lowliest of the human race.
I wish to offer as a practical suggestion for this week the idea of being a gardener for the Lord, under his direction, and showing that by being polite and humane to people with whom we have minimal contact; to serve in small ways, by just being kind and courteous when we buy something from a store; giving our attention to the person behind the counter rather than treating them as a prop; acknowledging the waiter simply, but decently, when he brings our meal over, instead of nodding in his general direction while talking on a mobile phone.
Have you never received an impression of kindness, even goodness, from just the way a person said: “Thank you”, and this being a person we only saw for ten seconds in our lives? This week, perhaps we could be that stranger that someone sees for just a few moments, and from whom they receive a feeling that there is something warm in the world, and it can appear in even the smallest ways.