What Bees Can Teach Us About Mary and the Church

If you don’t know who you are or what your purpose is in life, you’re going to stumble and fall.

(photo: Cocoparisienne/Pixabay/CC0)

My wife and three of my daughters are beekeepers. (I’m mostly a beekeeper supporter who occasionally swoops in at night to help move a newly-acquired swarm.) While it’s been a bit of a struggle getting to the point where the four of them feel competent and confident with what they’re doing, they had their first honey harvest recently. Two of my daughters were literally jumping up and down with glee at the excitement of it all!

My family has learned a lot about bees over the last couple of years, and so much about their function and the overall hive dynamic is simply remarkable. And while comparisons to humans and our society fall short in many regards, in many other ways, they can offer a great deal of insight into our fundamental nature and how we interact with each other. In fact, bees may be able to help shed light on some basic principles we’ve forgotten, as well as providing some ideas on how to function better as a society and as Christians — especially in these chaotic days in which we find ourselves.

Bees are laser-focused on their purpose. While bees may not have the intellectual capacity that we as humans do, they know who they are and what their purpose is. They all make sure they do their part for the hive to thrive. They never doubt or question that purpose. They simply pursue it to the death if necessary. Female worker bees feed and care for the queen mother. They tend the young. They forage to feed the hive. If the hive is threatened, they fight to the death.

Who are we and what is our purpose? Pope St. John Paul II provided a great resource during his pontificate that reminds us of who we are and what our purpose is in his “Theology of the Body.” In a nutshell, we are unique, unrepeatable male and female images of God, and our purpose is to love like God loves. That’s it! Imagine if we all focused on our purpose as relentlessly as bees do on theirs!

Drones and worker bees both fulfill their respective roles, as does the queen. Bees aren’t confused. Male “drones” make sure the hive continues, then they die. They literally die to fulfill their purpose. What is it St. Paul says in Ephesians 5:25? “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her.”

The worker (female) bees labor tirelessly to build up the “nest” and assure that the home is a suitable environment for the “children” (i.e., the brood), providing them the nourishment they need. While I’m not at all trying to make the case that men shouldn’t do any work around the house and that women should do all of the hunting and gathering, there’s something instructive in this bee behavior. As one scientist put it, “(They) perform precisely the role that nature gave them.

Among humans, depression and mental health problems are at all-time highs (with no end in sight). Why is that? To a large degree, it’s because boys don’t know (and never learn) what it means to be a man and girls don’t know (and never learn) what it means to be a woman.

To add insult to injury, our society is actively telling boys and girls that the difference doesn’t matter and that gender is malleable. Girls are essentially told they should be more masculine in order to “have it all” (and that they can’t trust men either), while boys don’t know what to think because masculinity is considered “toxic.” This distorted message isn’t just unsettling to young people — it’s terrifying, and millions are frustrated and often angry and they don’t know why.

If you don’t know who you are or what your purpose is in life, you’re going to stumble, and society will suffer without you performing the role given to you.

Bees do whatever it takes to defend the hive. Both the worker bees (females) and the drones (males) do not allow any action that would be detrimental to the hive. The males will sacrifice themselves, while the females will attack and sting when the hive is threatened, which of course leads to the stinging bee’s death. When did we, as humans, become so cowardly or ill-informed that we don’t think it’s our place to speak up about unhealthy behavior? What if we all recognized that we are all part of one body — the Body of Christ — and that that is worth defending?

The queen bee is the mother of all, but is not the end-all. Catholics are uniquely well-positioned to appreciate this point. The queen bee is the mother of all in that collective body, much like Mary is the “Mother” of all mankind. (Jesus stated as much when he gave his Mother to John – on behalf of all of us – at the foot of the Cross.) And when the queen bee dies (or when we, as humans, lose sight of Mary’s guidance), the entire colony goes into disarray.

From the previously linked article on the Sciencing website:

While the queen bee is pivotal to everything that happens inside the hive, she is not, contrary to popular belief, in control of the colony.

That’s an important distinction, because Mary knows she doesn’t “control” us. She does help us keep our eye on the prize, though — on her Son, Jesus Christ. Mary’s last recorded words in the Bible are, “Do whatever he tells you.” Are we listening to the Queen, or is it safe to say that we’re in disarray?

Unlike bees, we won’t ever have a “new” queen — Mary will always fulfill that role. She performs precisely the role that (God) gave her. She is God’s masterpiece, and our “hive” — as the Body of Christ — would do well to follow her example.