Gratitude for harvest time and our farmers Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

It really is a joy and a blessing to experience the change in seasons. It’s hard not to be thankful for creation in this time of so much color and in this time of harvest. This time of year should provide us with no end of seeds for reflection, but I’m always drawn to reflect upon the lives of our farmers in a particular way.

By nature of it’s being the “seat” of the diocese, the center of state government, the largest city, more-or-less the geographic center of these 11 counties, and the home of a world-class university, so much of our attention in the diocese is often focused upon Madison. And indeed, Madison is all of the things I just listed, but we should never fall into the trap of thinking that the Diocese of Madison is mostly Madison. To do so would not only mean missing out on some of the richest aspects of our diocese, but would also make for a very monotonous, hyper-political existence! And that’s the furthest thing from my mind or my heart.

As such, in addition to getting out of the gravitational pull of Madison as frequently as possible, I also cherish the opportunity I’ve had over the past few years to gather in a specific way with some of our farming communities to pray and to give thanks for the gift of “rural life.” I was able to do that recently in Footville. And as we are still in the harvest season, I’d like to share a few of the thoughts that I shared with those gathered.

The beauty of the earth

We sang an opening hymn for the Mass that was perfectly suited for the theme of my homily — “For the beauty of the earth.” The song begins, “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies.” Those few lines lay out the environment in which those called to the beautiful work of farming live every day. And what a beautiful environment it is — the beauty of the earth, the glory of the skies.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that sometimes there isn’t too much rain, and that at other times there isn’t too little rain, nor that the beautiful work of farming isn’t very, very, very hard work. No, clearly there are times when the climate is less than idyllic, and there can be little doubt that the hard work of farming affects the schedules of our farmers in a way that often poses inconvenience.

Oftentimes what works well in terms of timing for everybody else is not at all convenient for farmers — what needs to be done on a farm needs to be done at a precise time and there is little you can do to change that. But our farmers are faithful. And if the weather isn’t perfect they learn, over the years, how to hang in there and to deal with that. And of course, when we have drought and too much heat — the way we did this summer — the prayers and love from all of us in this diocesan family certainly go out to our farmers in a very special way.

A gift from God

But, we are grateful for the gift of the beautiful earth, the gift of all creation. That gift is a gift from God. We don’t own it (as if we created it). It is a gift from God and it’s a gift that is given to the whole human community; all creation is a gift from God to the whole human community. But it is up to us, who have the gift of reason, to use our reason to figure out how to distribute that creation, how to distribute the land and God’s good creatures.

From the beginning we have learned that the time-tested best way for the distribution of the beautiful land and of all creation is in accordance with one’s work. In other words, those who work deserve to keep what they work for, that is theirs. And in the long term, that generates prosperity and fairness for the vast majority of people.

The gift belongs to all, but the responsibility for this or that parcel of creation belongs to the one who works that land and nourishes that land and brings good out of that land for other people.

As a community we should pray that our farmers are able to sustain themselves, and our farmers depend so much on the weather for that — that’s a difficult situation to be in. But still, the best way for them to prosper and thrive and keep their freedom is for them to work the land given to them for the sake of others — that’s absolutely the best way. And it’s good to stop and think about how our farmers, especially our family farmers, nourish the land, the care that they take, the adjustments they make from year to year, to try to keep in tune with the weather as much as that can be. Our farmers are so close to creation in that way.

Don’t take farmers for granted

There are always those who think that meat, or milk, or magnificent vegetables come from the supermarket, and they give little or no thought to what all of our farmers put into that. By the time most people see the products in the store, grown and produced for their consumption, the work of the farmers’ hands in terms of the products is a long way from those hands which toiled — day-in and day-out.

And we should not take for granted the wonderful hard work that our farmers do, nor that the respect and the cooperation with which they engage with the beauty of creation, day-in and day-out, makes them a model of what human labor and human freedom are all about. They take what is theirs, they use it in accord with their freedom so that they can support themselves and their families, but they are just as concerned to provide for others. And indeed, if it weren’t for the others who were out there to consume the goods of the farm, the farmers wouldn’t produce them.

So, their labor, their job, their day-to-day work brings them into contact with all creation, with God the Creator, and with so many other people who rely upon their labor, so that they can go out and purchase their sustenance. The work of our farmers is really perfect in terms of the attitude toward creation and the use of creation which they render. And that should never be forgotten by any of us, but especially by you farmers out there.

Their relationships are in order

Family farming has been under pressure for a long time, and yet our family farmers hold a treasure for the rest of the world — a treasure of wisdom about the relationship between God and themselves, and creation, and other people. They live lives which get all of those relationships in order: God, the farmers, creation, and others. In that sense, even in a rough year in terms of income, our farmers still have reached the summit of their vocation, considered from the point of view of relationship: God, themselves, creation, and all of our brothers and sisters.

So we all should remember to get up in the morning and thank God for the beautiful gift of the series of relationships in which we wake up every morning — and this applies especially to our farmers. Times can be tough, times can be good, but there is never a time when it is not appropriate to give thanks — if not for what our farmers have earned (because sometimes things are tight), then for who they themselves are, and the beautiful set of relationships which is their gift every day and that they model for the world. It is a gift which most other people never get a chance to experience at the same level of intensity.

So let us give thanks to God, from the heart, for all of our farmers, and let us look to them as a model of right relationships. And to all of the farmers, never forget the gift you have been given from God — a gift that requires much of you to live it out, but still remains a gift. We all thank God for you, your labor, your patience, and what you will do — as we move into an ever challenging future.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. God bless each one of you. Praised be Jesus Christ!