Spring is here, and with it gardening, lawn mowing, planting seeds and watching them grow, barbecues, mosquitoes—and caterpillars.
Caterpillars, a strange and squishy form of life, feeding in particular on leaves of trees and hedges. Travel through areas of poplar growth in the Province, and often enough at this time of year we will see acres of trees denuded of their leaves by tent caterpillars. Nasty, destructive things, whether in the garden or outside.
What is so strange about caterpillars, though, is that they live, literally, a double life. When their time of destructive feeding is over, they go dormant within a kind of shell that they manufacture for themselves. Some time later, they emerge from the pupa stage as a (much more attractive) moth or butterfly.
Particularly interesting is the way this comes about. It’s not as if the caterpillar keeps its identity in making its transformation. Rather, it seems, the whole creature dissolves into a kind of mush, from which an entirely new creation develops, much as a chicken develops within the egg.
What a parallel with our own process of spiritual development! “Be not conformed to this world,” says St. Paul, “but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” In the first part of our lives, we establish ourselves at the expense of others. At some point, though, a new spirit has to take us over, dissolve our old nature, and refashion us in an entirely new manner. Whether in Baptism, conversion, or death, “It is sown a physical body: it is raised a spiritual body.” “He who loses his life, the same shall find it.”
To quote William Temple:
“Death becomes not a mere gateway to be passed through, not the mere casting away of a perishable body, but a loss which is turned into gain, a giving up of life which is made the means whereby that life is received back again renewed, transfigured and fulfilled.”
The way, in fact, in which the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.