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As the weather turns warm with the coming of spring, many people are beginning to make plans for the coming gardening season. Most avid gardeners will tell you that they feel closer to God while working in their gardens than they do anywhere else. Planting, weeding, pruning, weeding, mulching, weeding, harvesting, and weeding are all opportunities to reconnect to God’s ongoing work of creation. Gardens are places to work the soil, but they can also be places to pray and seek a few moments of solitude.

From the earliest centuries of the Christian faith, people have seen in various plants echoes of religious and spiritual themes. Many of these are reflected in gardening folklore and even in the names of the flowers and herbs themselves: Mary’s Bedstraw, Ladder-to-Heaven, Penitent’s Rose, or Crown of Thorns. Like living stained glass, these flower and herbs became symbols of faith. And cultivating them became a means of prayer and contemplation.

Today, many gardeners plant whole gardens dedicated to religious and biblical themes.

Among Catholics, “Mary’s Gardens” are popular and are filled with plants whose names and folklore mention the Virgin Mary. In Washington, DC, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has a large Mary’s Garden, given to the Shrine by the National Council of Catholic Women.

If you’d like to start a Mary’s Garden at your church or in your own yard, there are lots of resources available on the internet. The best place to look is at mgardens.org, where you’ll find list of plants, references for folklore, photos, design suggestions, and information on plants and their symbolism.

Father Rice is Vocations Director for the Paulist Fathers.   More

To celebrate the year of consecrated life, the Catholic Herald is releasing a series of videos on some of the consecrated orders in the Arlington Diocese. The first in this series introduces the lay Dominican chapter at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls.

Watch the video below and read the article in the Catholic Herald:

Lay Dominicans at St Catherine of Sienna welcome novice

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Clare Sukley performed in the finals of Culpeper Has Talent at the state theater in Culpeper, Va March 28. She was voted in as a fan favorite and Sukley performed songs by Carrie Underwood and Jo Dee Messina. She spoke with the Herald after the performance and talked about the strength she receives from her faith. Read more about Sukley by clicking here.

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For many Christians the popular story of our faith is like a movie, beginning with an expectant Mary and Joseph searching for a room at the inn on Christmas Eve: a dark chilly night in Bethlehem, a manger, swaddling clothes, a bright night star and the Savior.

The Easter Triduum is the three-day climax of our action-adventure: the Last Supper, the betrayal and intrigue, crowd justice and the sentencing of Jesus, the scourging and humiliation, and the Crucifixion complete with dark clouds, a shaking earth and one last moan. Many movies would stop there, but our faith has a surprise ending — the Resurrection.

Just when many might expect to see the credits roll, we see women running, an empty tomb, a folded shroud, confusion and angst, and (cue the triumphant music) the moment when all realize that the Son of God who gave His life for all mankind has, in fact, risen.

If asked, we share this epic tale with friends, coworkers and small children. But what if we don’t have to be asked because the way we live during Lent and throughout the year tells the story for us?

We can be role models in our quiet Lenten practices — fasting, trying a little harder in weak spots and helping those who need a hand. We can discreetly make time during a busy lunch hour for Mass. We can pop in for eucharistic adoration late at night on the way home from errands.

These little ways — what we do and who we are — make an impression on others. They might ask us about the story, what it means, how it ends. They might ask why we do it, how do we do it and what’s the point of doing it.

Life parallels this hit movie as we experience high points — such as the birth of the Savior — and we endure gut-wrenching losses — as Mary watched her son being tortured, mocked and ultimately, killed.

Mary went on; we go on. But what a comfort to have our faith as our rock. We stand on it in line at the grocery store; we sense it beneath us as we fight rush-hour traffic. And …   More

St Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va. was filled with song during their Lenten Revival event March 16. The St. Joseph Gospel Choir performed several songs and visitors were able to hear an inspirational talk from Franciscan Father Paul Williams, who encouraged them to share their stories and experiences of Jesus Christ with the younger generations.

Read a story about the revival   More

Scholars put Catholics' relationship with the American immigration system into historical context in this Catholic News Service video.

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On top of school, swim team and coaching, one Paul VI freshman also finds time for baking and has even made a side business out of it. Aspiring baker Sydney Mandrgoc talked to the Herald about her business Sydney's Sweet Shoppe. With the help of her assistant, her mom, Sydney makes custom decorated cakes and cupcakes for birthdays, baby showers and more. She has just started volunteering for Icing Smiles, an organization that provides cakes for sick children. Watch as she makes a "Dr. McStuffins" birthday cake for 5 year old Esther, a young lung transplant patient with a taste for chocolate cake.

Read more about Sydney Mandrgoc's bake shop

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Is there anyone out there not looking forward to spring?

Almost zombie-like, we go through our winter routines:

Grocery store run: milk, meat, treats.

The steps: sweep, salt and wait for the snow/sleet/ice.

The gear: find the mate to the favorite glove you threw in the closet when it was 50 degrees last week; the boots so layered with road salt they’ve faded two shades; the coat that is begging for a spa day at the dry cleaners; and the hat, misshapen from being stuffed in pockets.

After the snowfall — twice as much as was predicted or a dusting from a front that “passed us by” — means another occasion to struggle putting boots on a squirming toddler or an impatient dog?

The steps: (repeat) shovel, salt and wait for the sun.

Intell gathering: Scarf up info from the TV, Internet and Listservs — is school open, delayed or closed; what’s the federal government doing; what meetings must I make?

The route: if I’m lucky enough to get down my hill in one piece, which main road can I get to quickest? Traffic report blaring in the car as the defroster cyclones into a burst of air colder than the air outside.

The drop-off: positioning the car at just the right curb spot where the snow pile is navigable; quick kiss; admonitions about being careful; merging back into the traffic flow.

At the office/school/back home: un-layering (while thinking what would happen if you had fallen in the snow with so many layers on, would you have been able to get up or just surrender to making a snow angel to look like it was on purpose?); strategically placing wet apparel in key warm areas; shuffling in your socks until you absolutely must put shoes back on for office decorum.

Water-cooler: Join your peers for a cry in unison, “No more snow (cold/sleet). Please, no more snow (cold/sleet).”

Lunchtime/5 p.m.: Repeat above steps in reverse while day dreaming about that hot, humid day last August when you actually said, “I can’t wait for …   More

George Mason University Knights of Columbus in Fairfax (a part of Catholic Campus Ministry) passed out hundreds of roses to women on campus Feb. 13 in an effort to jump-start a conversation about human dignity.

“The students were looking for a way to honor their fellow students in a creative way this Valentine’s Day and drew inspiration from (Arlington Bishop Paul S.) Loverde’s pastoral letter "Bought With a Price," said Youth Apostle Father Peter W. Nassetta, chaplain. “Lust and pornography are big issues on a college campus, and it’s important to challenge our students to see how it affects our ability to love.”

Each rose has a note attached with a card that says: "All women have an innate beauty and dignity that men should always recognize. But lust and pornography obscure and destroy people's ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God's creation."

The back of the cards include handwritten notes from Knights that say things like: "Receive the unconditional love you were made to receive" and "You deserve nothing less than authentic love."

Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Reneé Marek, executive assistant to Bishop Loverde, was given a rose during a George Mason Catholic Campus Ministry Thursday Night Supper Feb. 12. The supper included a short talk by Grand Knight Connor Xavios, a senior at George Mason.

“St. John Paul II implored us that our duty as men is to preserve the dignity of all women,” Xavios said. Speaking to the women present, he added: “This is a reminder that you have a dignity that no one can take away, that you are beautiful, and you are always enough.”

The Knights plan to hand out similar cards on Mardi Gras that will include Mass times and information on the Stations of the Cross.

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Valentine’s Day is the busiest restaurant day of the year after Mother’s Day. Couples vie with each other to share protestations of love. Grade school children share Valentines far and wide. How did this public demonstration of love get to be associated with St. Valentine? Who was he? What might it mean for us today?

Valentine is the name of two saints, one a bishop and one a priest, who were martyred in the middle of the third century and honored on Feb. 14. According to the life of one of them, he sent letters of encouragement to people. The Bollandists, Jesuit scholars who have studied the calendar of saints for centuries, are of the opinion that in fact there is only one St. Valentine who ended up being celebrated in two different cities.

Because the facts of these lives are very sketchy, St. Valentine’s Day was not included in the most recent version of the calendar of saints. Feb. 14 is now the memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the apostles to the Slavs and the subject of an encyclical of Saint John Paul II.

The more likely association between lovers and St. Valentine is the medieval belief that birds would choose their partner on his day. Chaucer explores this conceit in his poem, “The Parliament of Fowls.” From that reference until now, St. Valentine’s Day has been associated with the idea that it is a good thing for two people in love to affirm that to each other — and to tell the world too!

Although the idea that Valentine’s Day is for lovers is based on medieval conceptions of animal behavior and a chance mention in a poem, the actual focus on telling others that they are loved is something that emerges from a scriptural truth: God is love. While it isn’t in keeping with Gospel simplicity to spend hundreds of dollars (or more) on roses, rubies, and repasts, to spend the day telling others they are loved is a good thing. So, too, would be to meditate on how God’s love permeates our world, perhaps by reading Pope …   More

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