Saturday, September 29, 2012

I Love Bees

I got my own beehive back in March of this year. I'm not looking to become a honey magnate or anything. It's just something I've always been intrigued by and finally found myself in a position to work on as a hobby.  There's also the fact that my kids find it interesting, so it gives us something to do together.

Even if you're a single guy, though, I highly recommend this.

If I may delve into corniness for a moment, bees make very good teachers. You know that bit from the Gospel about the ravens and the lilies and how God takes care of them? The first thing I learned about beekeeping was that all I was going to do is mess stuff up if I tried to "fix" something for the ladies of the hive. They didn't want or need my help. Eventually, they got the message across.

I have to say that they do have one thing over the lilies/ravens. When it comes to laboring, sowing, etc., the ladies of the hive are about as impressive a force of nature as I can imagine. It's not the destructiveness of hurricanes and tornadoes. Think of the creative opposite. Thousands of tiny little cogs, all whirring around the central axis of the queen, simultaneously fulfilling their duties without gripe or complaint. It's an almost symphonic display of work. They take care of themselves and each other. They don't know violence, except in defense of their own, at which point they will offer their own lives for the common good. Of course, there's also the fact that their work sustains the entire ecosystem by assisting plants with pollination. What a wonderful creature!

Seriously, you can sit and watch them for hours without getting bored.

Anyway, since this is a Catholic blog, I felt obligated to mention how the Church has paid homage to the ladies. If you were at Easter this year, you heard the return of bees to the Exsultet:

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants’ hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.

A pox on whoever thought it was a good idea to edit that out for the last how many decades.

More than that, there is a wonderful speech that Venerable Pius XII gave to some beekeepers back in 1948.

Your presence in such large numbers, your desire to assemble before Us, beloved sons, is a real comfort: and so We express our heartfelt gratitude for your homage and your gifts, both particularly pleasing to Us. Beyond its material and technical importance, the work which you represent, by its nature and significance has a psychological, moral, social, and even religious interest of no small value. Have not bees been sung almost universally in the poetry, sacred no less than profane, of all times?

Impelled and guided by instinct, a visible trace and testimony of the unseen wisdom of the Creator, what lessons do not bees give to men, who are, or should be, guided by reason, the living reflection of the divine intellect!

Bees are models of social life and activity, in which each class has its duty to perform and performs it exactly—one is almost tempted to say conscientiously—without envy, without rivalry, in the order and position assigned to each, with care and love. Even the most inexperienced observer of bee culture admires the delicacy and perfection of this work. Unlike the butterfly which flits from flower to flower out of pure caprice; unlike the wasp and the hornet, brutal aggressors, who seem intent on doing only harm with no benefit for anyone, the bee pierces to the very depths of the flower's calix diligently, adroitly, and so delicately, that once its precious treasure has been gathered, it gently leaves the flowers without having injured in the least the light texture of their garments or caused a single one of their petals the loss of its immaculate freshness.

Then, loaded down with sweet-scented nectar, pollen, and propolis, without capricious gyrations, without lazy delays, swift as an arrow, with precise, unerring, certain flight, it returns to the hive, where valorous work goes on intensely to process the riches so carefully garnered, to produce the wax and the honey. . (Virgil, , 4, 169.)

Ah, if men could and would listen to the lesson of the bees: if each one knew how to do his daily duty with order and love at the post assigned to him by Providence; if everyone knew how to enjoy, love, and use in the intimate harmony of the domestic hearth the little treasures accumulated away from home during his working day: if men, with delicacy, and to speak humanly, with elegance, and also, to speak as a Christian, with charity in their dealings with their fellow men, would only profit from the truth and the beauty conceived in their minds, from the nobility and goodness carried about in the intimate depths of their hearts, without offending by indiscretion and stupidity, without soiling the purity of their thought and their love, if they only knew how to assimilate without jealousy and pride the riches acquired by contact with their brothers and to develop them in their turn by reflection and the work of their own minds and hearts; if, in a word, they learned to do by intelligence and wisdom what bees do by instinct—how much better the world would be!

Working like bees with order and peace, men would learn to enjoy and have others enjoy the fruit of their labors, the honey and the was, the sweetness and the light in this life here below.

Instead, how often, alas, they spoil the better and more beautiful things by their harshness, violence, and malice: how often they seek and find in every thing only imperfection and evil, and misinterpreting even the most honest intentions, turn goodness into bitterness!

Let them learn therefore to enter with respect, trust, and charity into the minds and hearts of their fellow men discreetly but deeply; then they like the bees will know how to discover in the humblest souls the perfume of nobility and of eminent virtue, sometimes unknown even to those who possess it. They will learn to discern in the depths of the most obtuse intelligence, of the most uneducated persons, in the depths even of the minds of their enemies, at least some trace of healthy judgment, some glimmer of truth and goodness.

As for you, beloved sons, who while bending over your beehives perform with all care the most varied and delicate work for your bees, let your spirits rise in mystic flight to experience the kindness of God, to taste the sweetness of His word and His law (Ps. 18:11; 118: 103), to contemplate the divine light symbolized by the burning flame of the candle, product of the mother bee, as the Church sings in her admirable liturgy of Holy Saturday: (For it is nourished by the melting wax, which the mother bee produced for the substance of this precious light.)

Yeah, I reproduced the whole thing, but that's because it's awesome. 

Finally, there's actually a blessing of bees, which I will definitely have done next year on the feast of St. Benedict.

O Lord, God almighty, who hast created heaven and earth and every animal existing over them and in them for the use of men, and who hast commanded through the ministers of holy Church that candles made from the products of bees be lit in church during the carrying out of the sacred office in which the most holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ thy Son is made present and is received; may thy holy blessing descend upon these bees and these hives, so that they may multiply, be fruitful and be preserved from all ills and that the fruits coming forth from them may be distributed for thy praise and that of thy Son and the holy Spirit and of the most blessed Virgin Mary.

Anyways, if you have any kind of yard at all where you live, look into beekeeping. As far as hobbies go, it's not that expensive, it will conform to any vocation or lifestyle.

St. Ambrose, patron of bees, and St. Benedict, patron of beekeepers, pray for us.


haskovec said...

That is really cool I have actually always found bees very interesting as well. You need to bring some fresh honey to Dallas next summer when you come and visit!

Throwback said...

My plan is for mead. I've had a couple of aborted attempts but will be trying to start another batch this weekend.

Aged parent said...

Fascinating and wonderful. Thank you. I, too, have thought about doing this, though I have much to learn. Then too, I am afraid of the recent devastations of the bee population, devatstations which can be credibly linked to the gnomes at Monsanto and the poison they spew over the earth, and to those ubiquitous cell phones. I'd like to keep bees, if only for a feeble attempt at ptoviding a haven for them.

Throwback said...

Don't worry about the learning curve so much. Like I said, they teach you 90% of what you need to know to deal with them. You can get most else from internet forums.

I use a top bar hive, which you can buy from several internet sources or build yourself. The design is very basic. Or you could use a Warre hive, which is a design popularized by a French priest, Fr. Emile Warre.

Thankfully, I'm in a very rural area so there isn't a whole lot for my ladies to get mixed up with that would hurt them.

On your last point, now that I'm into this, I would honestly do bee-keeping even without the ancillary benefits (honey, wax, etc.).

Martin said...

Great idea about the blessing on the feast of St. Benedict! Don't neglect St. Ambrose who is the patron of bees themselves - and St. Rita who had a miraculousish hive of white bees in her convent wall. I have begun beekeeping lately after 20 years off and am loving it more than ever. Please let me know if your mead works out! And if so, post the recipe . . .