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April 4, 2009
With the softening of the weather, the cats are on the move: it is hard to get out the front door of the rectory without tripping over an eager little body making its way outside. I guess they crave the Tuscan sun one reads so much about in books.

Or perhaps they hear the birds. All winter long, birdsong has been scarce, but it is back with a vengeance, now that nesting season is here. We're hearing lovely songs, including some we don't hear at home. We have birds here in Italy that North Americans don't know.

Of coure, there is an important bird Italy lacks. There are no hummingbirds in Europe. It is a bird of the New World. The tiny irridescent miracle of them is not experienced here, where miracles have been so long a part of life, where flowers have bloomed in winter from the corpses of saints, where snow has fallen in August in honor of the Blessed Mother, where St. Anthony has swooped in and scooped up children falling to certain deaths from high windows and San Vivaldo spent the last decades of his life living in the trunk of a chestnut tree, where St. Paul's head bounced three times when it was severed from his body in Rome, causing a fountain to spring up on each of the three places it hit the ground. Miracles we have, in Italy. Just no hummingbirds

I sat in our garden last spring with a friend who told me a painful story from her past. We sat for nearly an hour in the sun on a bench that was only slightly comfortable, but we sat in the midst of flowers, butterflies, happy fat honeybees. Ethel Merman* attended as well, busy on some bright red monarda I had planted just for her. She couldn't help but listen in, I suppose.

Everybody makes mistakes, honey, she told my friend kindly. I'm not sure my friend heard her.

Actually, Ethel, we were having a private talk. I started to explain that it was a confession, but Ethel flew discreetly away to sample some buddleia, well out of earshot. A cat walked carefully along the stone path and stopped to gaze fixedly at us for a while, but her indifference to the topic at hand was obvious.

Animals and plants share the outdoor common. We share it too, when we sit outside, when we walk there, when we stretch out on the grass and rest. We crave the fellowship of it from behind our double-glazed windows and closed shutters, and we come out into it as soon as it is warm enough.

Everything outdoors is public and private at once. The animals wear no clothes: they have nothing to hide. They keep no secrets as we understand secrets, but they do creep silently up on an unsuspecting prey, noiseless even in the pounce. And they do nurse their illnesses, even their deaths, in privacy, finding a hidden place to lie down when they know the end of life is near. They seem to want to leave this world on their own terms, which is what we all want -- if we must leave it at all.

The confession in the garden was at an end. Ethel was still working the buddleia.

Helps to talk sometimes, don't it?
she said to my friend as she flew past, but I'm not sure she heard.
*Ethel Merman is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird who divides her time between Costa Rica and the Geranium Farm.
Check out More or Less Church on the Farm this morning for a most remarkable -- and often disturbing -- Stations of the Cross from the point of view of the people who encounter Jesus on his last walk, including those who abuse him. MOLC writer Joanna Depue has created Stations for the last several years, and all are archived on
I'm AIDSWALKing along the Arno this year instead of in New York, but I still hope that my friends will sponsor me because I want to beat my record last year! Go to and click on "Sponsor a Walker." Then type my name in!
We're aware that several emails from the Farm have gone a little nuts lately, depositing multiple copies in your inbox. I ask for your patience as Matt the Web Dude sorts things out. If you just can't stand it, you may unsubscribe by following the directions at the bottom of any eMo.
My newest book Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet is out from Jossey-Bass. Visit or in America and in Europe. And Matthew Moretz's truly remarkable YouTube offerings, Fr. Matthew Presents, enjoyed by many on the Farm, are now available in DVD form at If you know a young person who thinks religion is dumb and boring, get him this as an Easter present.
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