During my stay of a few weeks in South Korea, at the beginning of November 2011, I received a gift that pleased me very much. It was a Korean book on floral arrangements published by the Institute of Research on Liturgical Floral Arrangements for the Catholic Diocese of Daejeon. For us of the Franciscan family of Korea, Daejeon is a special place because it represents the cradle of Franciscan life in this Land of the Morning Calm. Furthermore, the Franciscans of Canada have the honour and joy of witnessing the birth of Franciscanism in Korea.
A few days after my arrival in Seoul with some Franciscan colleagues from Canada, I had the opportunity to visit our Franciscan parish of Moktong (The Pastor’s Village) in Daejeon (The Great Rice Paddy). However, one week-night, during a Eucharistic celebration in this parish, I was invited, as former Pastor, to deliver a short speech in Korean. I greeted the people, expressed my pleasure to see all the familiar faces, and to show my gratitude to the members of the audience, I began to enumerate briefly what had most impressed me during my missionary life in Korea. Strangely, the first idea that came to mind was precisely the liturgical floral arrangements. And behold, something unexpected happened. As I recalled and expressed all my admiration for the Korean floral bouquets, I suddenly turned to the altar and there was a most beautiful floral arrangement. A happy coincidence indeed! It was an unexpected opportunity for me to congratulate the faithful for their beautiful floral achievement and to encourage them to admire more and more the beauty of flowers; and through them to rise and discover the Beauty of God.
However, a great surprise awaited me after Mass. A Korean lady (Antonia You Heng Seon), member of the parish’s liturgical floral arrangement group, came to greet me and brought me this book mentioned above. It contained 70 beautiful color photos of the best floral arrangements presented in the various parishes of the Diocese of Daejeon for The Sundays and Feasts of the Year 2011.
I have treasured this book whose English title is The Prayer to Jesus with Flowers. What is remarkable about this book is that each floral arrangement is accompanied by a short text either of the Gospel or psalms related to the theme of Sundays and Feasts of the Year. For example, the floral arrangement for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord presented here is accompanied by this passage from Luke’s gospel: “Rejoice, so highly favoured!, The Lord is with you” (Lc 1:28).
Later, I discovered the little poem that was inscribed as the subtitle of the book: Lord, source of life! You who are the Most High, you know our thirst and our suffering. Heal us body and soul by the divine scent of your beauty and so that this divine fragrance may bloom before the altar by our small hands. Give us a pure soul. Just let your flower scented with faith, hope and love be sown and become, through the desire and offering of the soul, a little flower of your wisdom.
Symbolically, it is the prayer of all those Korean florists who every weekend of the year and during long hours work in the church with all their art and all their heart to make the liturgical floral arrangements. Indeed, for the florists, it is a form of prayer, each week, to compose new bouquets with the intention that they are the visible support of an invisible reality.
Moreover, as the title indicates, this prayer is first and foremost an offering. It is the offering of a small flower. It should be remembered here that the flowers used in Korean floral arrangements are cut flowers that will last only a few days, images of the brevity and fragility of human life. It is as if flowers accept to be sacrificed before the altar to offer God the most precious thing they have: the divine scent of their beauty.
It seems to me that this short and humble prayer has in itself the main qualities of Franciscan simplicity and humility. Perhaps there is also the quality of modesty found in Taoism and Buddhism.
“Praise be you, my Lord,
by our little sisters the flowers
that pray in silence
and sing without words
the music of Christmas.”