I am making apple butter. I pace between my cast iron pot full of gently bubbling, copper colored puree’ and my computer, enjoying the silence the wee hours of the night offer to me. My mind drifts between shopping lists and prayers and everything in between, but most times it seems to focus on apple butter and my children.
Tonight I am preoccupied with how my children - my fruits - are faring in the world. Are they doing well enough in school? Are they growing in holiness? Where have I failed them and what legacies will I leave to them? Will Our Lord see them as fruits of my labor? Or will they grow up to be spiritually sterile?
Yes, things get pretty profound in my home at 2:00am. But when else do I have the time to actually think these things through?
I stir the apple butter, and my mind turns to how it has come to be. I brought the apples home. Washed, peeled and sliced them, removed the pit, and finely chopped them almost to a pulp. And although they were plenty sweet on their own, I added sugar in case they took on a slightly bitter taste as they simmered. Cinnamon, ginger and cloves mingled in their juices, turning the light sunny pulp into vivid liquid copper.
The fire was intense at first, to bring the juices to a boil, steaming off the water and intensifying the flavors hidden within. But then I turn it down and let it simmer. I stir it from time to time, to keep the bottom layer from scorching and to continue to release more steam. Hours pass. I remain close to the stove, watching for signs of thickening or scorching, and test it from time to time to see if I should season it a little more.
And it suddenly hits me. Motherhood is rather like making apple butter, is it not? It is not enough for us to simply be fruitful and multiply. We need to take these fruits - our children - and over the years apply generous amounts of both love and discipline, sugar and heat, to bring out that which most resembles God within them. We simmer them for many years, stirring and seasoning them until they are ready to stand firmly on their own, preserving the faith in them for yet another generation to relish.
Almost through now. Most of the water has evaporated off, and the spices are perfectly infused. I scoop up a spoonful of fruit. Does it keep its form and stand tall, or does it ooze off the sides and conform to the concave shape of the ladle? If I have done my job right, the apple butter will be sweet and smooth as silk but thick enough to retain its shape if mounded on the spoon.
Success! I measure out the apple butter, dispersing it among half a dozen jelly jars. All my preparations have led me up to this moment, and I have reached the point where I must let go. I gently lower them into the boiling water canner and close the lid. Will the jars crack? Will they leak or take on the viciously boiling water surrounding them? Or will they, tried by fire, continue to be purified – perfected?
I pace a little, as it is completely out of my hands now. I can watch, I can pray this batch of apple butter will be preserved. But once the timer goes off, there is nothing more I can do.
I have prepped and prepared these fruits. And one day, I will have to send them off on their own, to either persevere in the faith, preserved in purity for their Heavenly home, or collapse under the pressure and become another indistinct ingredient of the worldly domain.
The words of St. John Mary Vianney suddenly come to mind and I ponder the odds of my children being saved. “The number of the saved is as few as the number of grapes left after the vineyard-pickers have passed. “ O Lord, what more must I do to preserve these fruits for you?
Time is up. Each jar has been removed from the raging water and set on the cooling rack.
I hold my breath.
The moment of truth is upon me.
I listen for that tiny pop, that reassuring little ping that proves that all the work that went into the apple butter will be preserved. One, two, three jars are sealed almost immediately. Four and five follow suit soon after. I busy myself in the kitchen, cleaning up the mess, all the time eyeing the last jar.
Will it pop?
It does not.
Somehow, these jars of apple butter have come to represent my children to me and I fret over the jar that has not sealed and thus will not be preserved. After all, the odds of a soul gaining Heaven are far bleaker than the odds of a jar of apple butter being sealed. What does this mean?
I resist the urge to just press the center of the lid myself, to force it to seal. But no amount of force or wishful thinking will preserve this fruit. I crawl into bed, full of wondering. Was it something I did? Something I didn’t do? Or was there some flaw in the jar or the lid that was beyond my control?
Mothers, our time with our children is short. Despite what the world tells us, Heaven is not for the many, but the few. What have we done to preserve the purity of the fruits He has entrusted to our care? Have we properly prepared them to persevere in the world outside our homes? Are they strong enough to endure the persecutions and temptations waiting to consume them?
We can never be sure. But we need to trust that Our Lord desires that all will be saved. With His grace we can bring to Him the delicious fruits of our labor, and hope that when our children’s time is up - when Our Lord lifts them out of this world - they will be sealed.
- Cassandra Poppe