‘Hope for the Flowers’ is an adult fable, telling the story of a young buck caterpillar who finds himself in a heaving column of other caterpillars. He enjoys the struggle, pushing others out of the way, climbing over weaker ones smaller than he is.
He hears a voice “Please, help me.” A young lady caterpillar is looking at him with pleading eyes. He hesitates. He stops. For a little while he protects her from the commotion around, but then the desire to start climbing again overtakes him and, reluctantly, he leaves her.
He moves on with ever greater vigour, pushing and squashing, makes his way to the outside of the column. Now he can see clearly. All around are other heaving caterpillar columns, everyone striving to climb higher. He moves swiftly up the outside of the column. He could fall, but he grips more tightly and treads hard.
He becomes aware that caterpillars are falling past him, screaming “There’s nothing up there, there’s nothing there!” He is puzzled, but goes up and through a thick cloud, into a vast emptiness of sky. Now he sees. Above him is the top of the column, a heaving mass of caterpillars, pushing and jostling. The younger and stronger push the older and weaker who desperately try to hang on until they are pushed from the top, and they fall, screaming, through the cloud. He can see the same thing happening on the other columns. Those who reach the top are sent crashing to oblivion by stronger and younger caterpillars.
Suddenly he feels desperate. It will happen to him, and all the struggle will be worthless. Then he is aware of a beautiful butterfly, fluttering around him, looking at him, imploringly. He knows those eyes. He remembers . . . the young lady caterpillar he had befriended! She wants him to do something. She wants him to fly with her? He can’t. He clings to the column. If he lets go he will fall to his death. She seems to read his mind. Trust her. Try to fly to her . . .
He closes his eyes, and desperately leaps towards her. He opens his eyes. He is flying! He, too, has become a butterfly, and the new life with her is his.
At a recent talk by a former priest, James Carroll, I heard the truth within the above story in a new way. He was speaking to those who seek places for women within the structures of the church, even the diaconate and the priesthood. He told his audience that he had been where the women seemed to want to go and he warned them there was nothing there. To want a place in the structures of the Church is a dead end. Caterpillars fight to rise to the top – and there is nothing there except to retire, die or fall.
He had discovered a new relationship with God and a new understanding of God’s infinite love for every human being, no one excluded. To know the immensity of love in God’s wonderful gifts is what is on offer. The caterpillars of the Church have no appeal for the world – they are simply another power structure; but the butterflies show in their eyes that they have seen the truth and want everyone to share it.
The beauty of the butterfly reflects God’s love, free of the rivalries of ambition and power, and Carroll’s vision had become a world loved by God that we may see more freely as human beings rather than from within structured communities.
We may not agree, but it is thought-provoking. What does the world see in the Catholic Church at present?
God bless us with truth.
(14th November 2021)