On a recent walk with my husband, he was astounded to see a perfect ring of little white mushrooms. I told him that it was a “fairy ring” and he became quite confused. I explained to him that, when I was growing up, I was told this silly tale that these rings were made by fairies dancing on this spot and that you shouldn’t step into them.
After having a good laugh, I then explained the actual science of fairy rings to him:
Mushrooms are a type of fungus, and fungi are decomposers. They can’t make their own food, like plants do, so they decompose organic matter and use some of the nutrients as well as releasing necessary nutrients back into the ecosystem. As far as fairy rings specifically, a number of different fungus take root in the soil to harvest nutrients. Then once this source starts to run out, the fungi branch out to find more food in a circular pattern.
Often times this is just shown as a ring of different colored grass, but when it rains the fungus can bloom into the visible mushrooms that we see.
Although most of my interactions with fungi have been a rare sight of big white mushrooms in my lawn, aka they never cross my mind, fungi are so much more important than that.
Fungi are extremely important in the balance of ecosystems. They are able to inhabit most environments on Earth, but they prefer dark, moist conditions. In fact, most members of the Kingdom Fungi grow on the forest floor where the dark and damp environment is rich in decaying debris from plants and animals. They prefer this environment because they are decomposers and recyclers. This means that they assist in decomposing organic matter so that nutrients can be harvested from the matter, for themselves and for others. This process makes it possible for members of the other kingdoms to be supplied with nutrients and to live.
Without fungi’s help, we would be unable to harvest important elements, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are required in large quantities by biological systems. Despite our need for these elements, they are not abundant in the environment. The action of fungi releases them from decaying matter, making them available to other living organisms.
Thanks to the actions of fungi, many other organisms are able to thrive and grow. I said that they live mostly on forest floors, so this beautiful scene would be impossible without them.
They quietly work in the background, but they are feeding the environment. It is because of them that so much beautiful life can grow and flourish.
These organisms, in a strange way, remind me of St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ.
Just as the fungi work in the background, St. Joseph is a silent worker in the biblical story of Jesus. Never in scripture does it reference anything Joseph said. This lack of content does not mean that he was not important.
Before Jesus’ public ministry, He grew up in Joseph’s household. Joseph was the silent provider for Jesus. He earned a living so that Jesus could be fed and have a home. He was chosen OUT OF EVERYONE to be the earthly father of Christ. He was chosen to be an example of fatherhood for Jesus growing up. The work he put in during Jesus’ youth led to the beauty and glory that was Christ’s ministry, just like the work of the fungi led to much greater life in the plants it provided for.
Not only was he an example for Jesus, but he is still an example for us today. As we approach this Sunday’s celebration of Father’s Day, it is a good exercise to look at what St. Joseph can teach us.
First, he is a great example of providing for the needs of those around you. For fathers this may look like holding a steady job, investing your money wisely. This can also come in the form of providing emotional support and other intangibles that your family needs. Fathers are called to do this for their children and spouse, but all of us are called to provide for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. In Matthew 25, Jesus lists specific ways that we can do this, the corporal works of mercy.
Second, St. Joseph was an example of living a good holy life. His words are not listed, but maybe that’s because they weren’t the most important. Fathers can tell their kids the difference between right and wrong, but showing them is much more important. As a Christian, it is our job to be an example to the world. We can spout scripture, but Christ’s message won’t be heard if our actions give a different message.
As we approach Father’s Day and while we reflect on the goodness that Joseph provided, I personally pray for a few things. First, may the work you put in today help the world to be a more vibrant place tomorrow. Secondly, may the love and example you give help those you interact with to live the life God has planned for them. Amen.