Marge Fenelon is a Catholic author, blogger, speaker, and award-winning journalist. She’s a long-time correspondent for National Catholic Register, a columnist for the Milwaukee Catholic Herald and the author of several books on Marian devotion and
Catholic family life. She’s also a weekly contributor to Relevant Radio’s “Morning Air Show” and a popular guest on several other Catholic radio and television shows. Along with her husband, Mark, Marge also works as an educator in the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt. Together they have four grown children.
My poinsettia plant is blooming. Right now, during Lent. Ridiculous, right?
At least that’s what I thought when I first noticed it.
It’s even more ridiculous when you know the plant’s history. We got it three Christmases ago. I have absolutely no hint of green in my thumb. I find a way to kill even the hardiest of plants. But this one poinsettia miraculously survived the Christmas season. It just wouldn’t die.
So, I let it grow.
It lost all its red leaves, but the green ones remained. I watered it and gave it fertilizer once or twice. During the warm summer months, I set it outside with the other plants (the ones my husband takes care of), so that it could soak up the sun.
The silly thing just kept on growing. It became lush and vibrant, grew new branches and leaves and ended up being quite a nice plant.
When I noticed the first streaks of red in the outer leaves a couple of weeks ago, I thought, “Well, that’s pretty cool.”
But then I never gave it another thought.
Until one when out of nowhere, there was a small, red bloom. The bloom got bigger. It was amazingly beautiful. Then other little blooms popped out. Now they’re getting bigger as well.
Eight of them in all and I think there are more on the way.
See? Ridiculous. Where were those blooms at Christmas time?
Then one morning, I started thinking about the poinsettia blooms during prayer. Suddenly, it made perfect sense to me.
Why? Because of the poinsettia’s legend and symbolism.
The poinsettia is native to Central America, and there’s an old Mexican legend about how they became attached to Christmas.
It goes like this:
There was a poor Mexican girl named Pepita who had no gift to give the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve as was the custom.
Her cousin, Pedro, tried to cheer her up while on their way to the chapel for Christmas Eve services.
'Pepita', he said "I'm sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy."
The only thing Pepita could find to give were some weeds growing along the side of the road. She picked some and made them into a small bouquet. She was terribly embarrassed at her meager gift, but nonetheless laid them before the nativity scene along with all of the other gifts.
Suddenly, Pepita’s bouquet burst into bright red flowers. Everyone recognized the miracle that had occurred. From that day on, poinsettias were called “Flores de Noche Buena,” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.”
In time, the leaves became a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem and the red color a representation of the Blood of Christ.
What does that have to do with Lent?
As the Lenten Season approached this year, I was given a particularly heavy cross to bear. I decided that, rather than fight it – my usual reaction to any cross at all, much less heavy ones – I was going to work hard to embrace it with joy. The joy would be my “gift” to our Suffering Lord this Lent.
Pepita’s gift to Jesus…my gift to Jesus…the symbolism of the red leaves…the sudden blooming of my poinsettia plant. They all converged for me during that one morning at prayer.
Jesus was born so that he could die. The Star of Bethlehem pointed to his Majesty and role as Savior of the World. He shed his blood for me so that we might live.
First I started to cry. Then I started to chuckle. Out loud. Good thing I was alone in the house at the time or I’d be locked up right now.
The tears came because the symbolism and perfect timing of the whole thing was so incredible. The chuckles came because I realized that, I was giving our Lord a gift, but he was giving me a gift in turn and right under my nose.
As the red leaves began to emerge from my poinsettia plants, the joy of my cross began to emerge from my heart.
Poinsettias in Lent? You bet.