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  • Sarah Raad

Broody

“We will ask who they are, and they will say, a poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.” (Venerable Fulton Sheen).

Dante's Purgatory (Gustave Dore)

Over the last month or so, we have had one of our hens become broody.


Broody hens are interesting to someone like me who has had little opportunity to interact with chickens – except for those that I see on my dinner plate – because they demonstrate so clearly the wonderful natural instincts of parenthood evident in nature.


You see, when a hen becomes broody, her body temperature becomes elevated, and she stops laying eggs of her own. Instead, she gathers all the eggs laid in the coop and she sits on them spluttering and hissing at anyone who dares go near her to collect the eggs each day. She sits on the eggs for 21 days and during this time she barely moves. That means that she does not get up to eat or drink or defecate except for possibly once a day and because she is eating and drinking the minimum amount possible, her comb wilts and fades as she basically puts her own needs aside to attend to the needs of her eggs.


Broody hens – while not problematic in themselves – are problematic for suburban backyard chicken-keepers like us because in most council areas in the Sydney region, it is illegal to keep a rooster. Because there is no rooster, the broody hen has no opportunity to lay fertilised eggs of her own, and this means that those eggs upon which the hen is sitting will never hatch into chicks.


In our family, we sort of solved this problem for our broody hen when we purchased some fertile eggs for her to sit on. This means that we placed some fertilised eggs beneath her and left her there – sitting on them happily – for 21 days…


But before we took that step for our broody hen, we first asked our children whether they were ready for the responsibility of all that this entailed – because broody hens who are allowed to remain broody – are a lot of extra work…


You see, broody hens are like the Holy Souls in Purgatory… They can do things for others, but they are unable to do things for themselves. This means that though they are happy to sit on their eggs, they will need help to get off the nest and eat, drink and defecate each day.

In a way, the Holy Souls in Purgatory are much the same. While they suffer to purify themselves and atone for sin, they are unable to pray for themselves and rely on the prayers of others to bring them comfort. This means that they rely on my prayers and offerings – and on yours too – to bring them home to Heaven…

And it is in my power to give those souls great comfort, thanks to the Communion of Saints…


The Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “As we enter Heaven, we will see them, so many of them coming towards us and thanking us. We will ask who they are, and they will say, a poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.”


And so, I have been reflecting very much on the Holy Souls of Purgatory as I watched my children lift that broody hen spitting and hissing, off her eggs so that she could have a quick bite to eat and a small sip of water every day of those 21 days of her sitting.


Because theirs was an act of mercy – offering help to one who was unable to help herself…


And seeing that reminded me of how important it is to pray for those who cannot pray for themselves…


Because the Holy Souls – like the broody hen – are stuck sitting still with only the needs of others for them to attend to


And I wonder if I have done enough for even one of them to greet me in my Master’s House when I enter…


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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