Spirituality for Today – Spring 2021 – Volume 25, Issue 3

Legend of the Dogwood

Reverend Raymond K. Petrucci

Dogwood trees are not natural to Palestine. This makes the following legend regarding the dogwood tree in connection with the crucifixion of Our Lord fanciful, but touching nonetheless:

There is a legend, that at the time of the Crucifixion the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber of the cross. To be used thus for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus, nailed upon it, sensed this, and in his gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering said to it: Because of your regret and pity for my suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth it shall be slender and bent and twisted and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross… two long and two short petals. And in the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember.


I suggest that a deeper interpretation of the legend may place the importance on the individual over the tree. I mean that a person viewed the natural circumstance of the dogwood and it awakened thoughts of Jesus Christ. Although another person might notice the flower as a beautiful thing, the spiritually thoughtful person saw elements of Our Lord's Passion in it: the cross and the wounds of the crucifixion. For this person, the dogwood blossoms images are sacramental. The gift of the legend is a personal faith experience. In a wider sense, not being involved in horticulture myself, I can see how gardening exposes the mystery and beauty of God's creation. The hard work and hopes of the gardener may be seen in the creative effort to bring forth the beauty of nature or in the case of vegetables or fruit a bountiful harvest. Does not God wish the same for his hard work and hopes for his human creation?

Celebrating this Lenten season addresses all the possibilities of a successful garden of spiritual growth. Wow, you can talk about "flowery" words. What I am referring to is the very real difficult task it is to assess where the weeds in our character need pulling or the location of the rocky ground and poor soil requiring change. A lot of honesty, courage, and faith are the tools to grasp within ourselves. Assuredly, we shall find aspects of ourselves (many of them, I hope) that are virtuous and that provide a path toward holiness. Obviously, anyone should want to be resolved to accomplish this goal. Why, then, is life such a mixture of virtue and vice?

Being born into this world, we "inherit" the thick residue of a fallen humanity. Its evil influence seeps into our bones. Perhaps, this "poor soil" poisons a person's conscience causing a blindness to sin which leads them to celebrate the base and vile and to ignore charity and goodness. For our life to become a beautiful and productive garden and to live in the inheritance that God offers, it will take, as they say, keeping your eyes on the prize.

The Easter season is filled with the celebration of earthly life and where eternal life finds its center. On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples of Christ noticed many things: the weather, the road ahead, anyone else walking or riding along the road, the foliage, but they did not recognize the one who appeared and traveled with them explaining the scriptures as they went. Finally, that night in their dwelling, Jesus was revealed to them when he broke bread (an obvious eucharistic symbol) and, filled with joy, they returned to Jerusalem to report to the apostles what had happened. Although prosaic in setting, this incident is most significant for all the faithful. The event of the story of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus should witness our need to witness. The happening makes us aware of how common human activities can be opportunities to have others see Christ in what we say and do. As a person saw the cross in a dogwood blossom, may people recognize the image of Christ in all who believe in him. I pray that this Lent and the Easter season will nourish this faith and witness within ourselves. Heavenly glory is the goal of each human life, but I believe that we ought to leave an inheritance to future generations of a life that revealed that glory. My prayer for you is that this intensely meaningful time of the Church year may strengthen its message in your soul, and most importantly, radiate form it.