Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saint Serenus the Gardener: Cultivating Virtue

The one who supplies seed to the sower
and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
—2 Corinthians 9:10

As we celebrate the Season of Lent—the Church’s “springtime”—it seems only fair that among the holy women and men we remember in these reflections is a saint who is honored as one of the patron saints of gardeners: Saint Serenus.

Born to a Greek family in the third century, Serenus (who is widely known as Saint Cerneuf in France) became a hermit, living on produce he grew in his hermitage garden in Syrmium (Sremska Mitrovica in modern-day Croatia). When a persecution of Christians erupted, Serenus went into hiding for several months. He eventually returned to his hermitage and garden and it seems to have been widely known that he was a Christian.

The most popular account of his life tells us that he was an exceptionally attractive man and a hard worker. He was respected and admired by everyone who came into contact with him, particularly the wife of one of the guards of the Emperor Maximian (r. 286-305). Her interest in Serenus quickly turned into sexual advances which led him to criticize her behavior, declaring that she was dishonoring both herself and her husband. The spurned woman responded by writing to her husband and declaring that Serenus had insulted her.
 
A 19th century depiction of Saint Serenus the Gardener
from Pictorial Lives of the Saints
 
A short time later, the husband presented a complaint to the governor and had Serenus brought to trial. The hermit defended himself so well that the husband dropped the charges, realizing that his wife had been the one at fault. Serenus was acquitted, but the governor suspected that anyone so conscientious must be a Christian. And so, Serenus was charged with being a Christian and invited to sacrifice to the Roman gods. He refused, declaring, “It has pleased God to reserve me for this present time. It seemed awhile ago as if he rejected me as a stone unfit to enter his building, but he has the goodness to take me now to be placed in it; I am ready to suffer all things for his name, that I may have a part in his kingdom with his saints.” He was martyred around the year 303. His commemoration is celebrated on February 23.

The witness of saints like Serenus challenges us to reflect on how we cultivate our own “garden”—our spiritual life. His life as a hermit, commitment to a truly Christian morality, and the witness of his martyrdom remind us that, regardless of our state of life, every follower of Jesus is called to cultivate virtue and witness to our faith in every facet of our lives: in our work, in our private moments, and especially in those times our faith is challenged.

Lent is that time set aside for us by the Church when we are supposed to pause and take stock of the quality of our discipleship. As we know, our commitment as followers of Jesus isn’t measured or reflected in how much we “give up,” but in how we care for one another, in our dedication to prayer, and in the way our faith guides and inspires our day-to-day decisions. With this in mind, spend some time this week reflecting on your own Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Ask yourself if your Lenten “good works” are leading you to focus your attention inward or if they are inspiring you to cultivate a life of virtue, goodness, and fidelity—like Saint Serenus—whose fruits enrich the world around you.

 
A prayer in honor of Saint Serenus the Gardener +
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Serenus boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the powers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from Holy Women, Holy Men)

This post was originally written Mayslake Ministries and was posted on their blog on February 24, 2015.

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