Plant for the future - Madonna Magazine

Plant for the future

Sr Rita Malavisi RSJ 03 March 2023

‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant’ – Robert Louis Stevenson

Growing up in an Italian/Arabic household, the musical Godspell wasn’t a show that my parents would have taken me to. However, one of its songs ‘All Good Gifts’ has been etched in my mind and in my life since 1971.

All good gifts around us.
Are sent from Heaven above.
So thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
For all His love.

At that time, we had a record player, and I nearly wore out the soundtrack of Godspell, especially the above song. Why was it so important for me? I think as a young 10-year-old, my mind would marvel at the words about ploughing the field and scattering the seed.

It wasn’t possible to do that in a suburban house in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, and yet, that was and is the life of so many. We harvest not only food, we harvest memories, we harvest life in general. Harvesting can teach us patience.

Roll forward some 30 years, while living and teaching in northern Victoria, a wise farmer and producer of citrus fruit and grapes said: ‘Sr Rita, water from above is better than the water from below’. I believe he was talking about the difference between rain and watering.

Another of his sayings, when I was complaining about the cold mornings of inland Victoria, ‘Ah, Sr Rita, we need the frost to sweeten the oranges’. There was an inner knowing that I needed to learn. There was a knowing of what it is to harvest, that God was trying to teach me.

Harvesting teaches me patience. It teaches me to go with the rhythm of life. The rhythm of the seasons.

As a teacher of primary aged children, I loved to sing and teach songs that for me taught about the love of God, and hopefully through me they would know the love of God. I have a few tried and true favourites. One such song was by Monica Brown ‘You and I We Grow’. Through the song it talks about the seed needing the deep, warm earth to hug itself around. The song came with actions, and of course each of my classes, year after year, would learn and know the song. As teachers, we don’t collect the harvest, we sow the seeds. That’s what I tried to do with the song.

Lo and behold, again some 20 years later, a student saw my photo on a common Facebook page and commented, ‘Sr Rita played the guitar and taught us a song as we prepared to receive our Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist’. (She herself is a teacher in northern Victoria now). Enquiring further, she told me that my joy definitely came across, and that she still remembers the words and tune of ‘You and I We Grow’.

I now wonder why she clearly remembered that song. This encounter speaks to me about authenticity. When we are authentic about who we are and what we teach, we harvest authenticity. It’s the seeds that we nurture and wait for the harvest.

How can we nurture? How can we practise cultivation? How can we practise patience? How do we harvest? The Scriptures give us a clue. In Romans 8:22 ­– ‘From the beginning till now, the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth’. And then we ask the question: what do we nurture? What do we harvest? Do we harvest alone or with others? Do we harvest goodness in every aspect of our lives?

In the Book of John 15:5 we hear ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty, for cut off from me you can do nothing’. Might we need to cut ourselves off from the things of this world, and give our life to Christ who gives us strength.

It’s wonderful that Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ implores us ‘that the gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone. Those who tilled and kept the land were obliged to share its fruits, especially with the poor, the widows, orphans and foreigners in their midst’ (no. 71).

We hear echoes of a number of Catholic Social Teaching principles: care of creation, participation, option for the poor, common good and human dignity.

We prepare for the harvest in the same way a farmer prepares the field. We till the soil . . . we prepare to work the ground . . . we sow the seeds . . . we water those seeds . . . and we leave the rest to God. How good will you become at harvesting?