The Tree That Will Not Die
We have a summer cottage on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which we have owned for more than 25 years. In our backyard is a beautiful Pin Oak that towers over a hundred feet in the air and provides a vast canopy of shade that we so enjoy in the hot summer months. This tree is likely well over a hundred years old and had beautiful boughs extending symmetrically in all directions.
About five years ago, this awesome tree I love so much was struck by lightning. And then a year later, struck again, dispelling the notion that lightning does not strike twice in the same place! The lightning strikes opened a huge, wide gash about 40 feet vertically up and down the trunk. All of the tree’s protective bark was burned away, leaving the tree’s interior unprotected and open to disease. Within weeks all kinds of insects had invaded the core of the tree, eating away its structure and hollowing it out.
We called the tree doctors. Each told us the same thing. There was no remedy; the tree would die in the next few years and we would need to cut it down when it became a hazard to our home and our neighbor’s home.
True to that diagnosis, each succeeding year, the tree had begun to wither. Large limbs died and had to be cut off. While the tree would still leaf in the Spring, by late July, all the leaves had turned brown and fallen to the ground, due to the stress it was experiencing, especially the difficulty it now had supplying moisture from the ground to its branches above. Last summer, I began to think it was time to cut down the tree, although I anguished at the thought of taking this step.
This season, for a variety of reasons, we hardly managed to get down to our cottage. I did get down right before Labor Day and had been sitting in the back yard and had just finished saying the rosary. I then happened to look up at the tree and was amazed to see that it was full and green. Sure, there were a few dead limbs here and there, but also a number of new branches had sprouted as well. I then walked up to the trunk and looked at the spot where it had been struck that was deeply gouged. It was no longer seething with insects as in prior seasons. I was amazed!
About 10 months ago, I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer with a prognosis of 6-18 months to live. I have gone through 11 rounds of chemo and now doing a regimen of radiation therapy. I have had some very bad days, but I have had some great days with family and friends as well. The cancer has been reduced, but it is still there.
When I saw that the tree had stopped its rapid progression toward death and had, in fact, generated some new growth, it filled me with hope! God has nourished this tree back from the brink. While my beautiful Pin Oak is still going to die, it's not going to die this year or likely next year.
Each day at Mass, I pray that God, through the sacrament of the Eucharist, will also nourish me and kill the cancer that has invaded my body as he has nourished this tree back to health. I was also at the brink of death some months back and have had a huge portion of my health restored, just like this tree.
This beautiful tree and I are both going to die, but not yet! This past week, I started very preliminary training to compete in a triathlon eight months from now. I will have bad days and setbacks between now and then, but I will press on.
What happened with this tree was a signal from God of hope to me and has strengthened my faith, no matter what may happen. It is more apparent than ever to me that God is nourishing both our bodies and our souls every day. God can do anything in our lives and never abandons us.
‘I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me….”
The writer is a member of St Raphael’s parish in St Petersburg, FL. He was born in Baltimore MD and attended Catholic elementary school, Loyola High School and Loyola University in Baltimore. He currently participates in several parish ministries and leadership groups.
God has on occasion surprised me in dramatic fashion. I think I could trace it to my first Holy Communion…but that’s another story.
This part of the story started about five years ago. My wife and I started trying to go to reconciliation (confession) on a monthly basis. Initially, just going to confession at all was quite a stretch for my normal religious experience. After several months of this practice, the act of going to confession became more of a chore than a healing experience. One Saturday confession appeared to be shaping up like many of the others and THEN God surprised me with His undeserved and unexpected presence. In the confessional both Father and I experienced a tangible presence of God’s mercy and love. Instead of the act of contrition, I told the priest, I’m overwhelmed and stumbled out, my face covered in tears. When my wife saw me she said, “what happened to you”. I couldn’t talk. After pondering this experience for several days the following poem seemed to pop out of me.
A day that started like so many others
Dragging myself to confession to uncover
The same old sins this time as last
I’m sure to God, this is a blast
How bored He must be of me
Wondering why I can’t have the victory
He promised over death and sin
And I can’t even fix this funk I’m in
As Father quietly listened and began to share
His words were powerful and we both became aware
The Spirit came down and to this Priest was saying
I have honored the prayer time you’ve been paying
Get out the way and let Me speak
I can take over if you both are meek
As I listened to the wisdom that came from on high
I knew that the power He could supply
As tears began rolling down both our cheeks
We knew that this could be a typical week
That Catholics could take advantage of the truth
That is only present in that quiet little booth
Before a weaver begins they give thought to their design. The colors that will be needed, where each piece will be placed. They weave in and out to make the pattern. They see the beauty in their work. They tell a story.
They are the weaver.
Are we so different from the weaver? Before we start our day we look at the clouds to see what the day will bring. We are in awe of the colors and marvel at how each cloud is formed - guessing their shape.
The sky is the weaver.
Our day begins - we spread out calendars- our notes - our life and begin to weave it all together and a pattern emerges.
Are we truly weavers?
Look at the pattern laid out. Each day is planned, each person's life captured by time, yet what is missing? What are you not seeing? What is not in your life pattern?
If our life is weaved like a hand made carpet and we are putting together a pattern - our beginning- our middle - our ending must have God being weaved in and out or our pattern begins to unravel.
Stop and look at your life pattern. Begin again like a rug weaver who takes the time to see the design put together. See your pattern - weave God through it
Then you will be a weaver.
Martha Martha You are Anxious About Many Things
I felt the tears well up inside of me for no apparent reason. I was cooking dinner and tending to the needs of my family at a busy hour. Well actually there was a reason. Just a day before, the beloved Mat Matsumoto had passed away. The vivid memories I had of him sitting at the feet of Jesus and then being the face of Jesus to all of us that knew him at the daily table of the Lord was almost overwhelming...
Pass / Fail Regrets
As I was starting the last semester of my college senior year I heard good things about a course entitled, "Entomology 201". The course wasn't so much about bugs as critical thinking using the analogy of the evolution of insects. I decided to take the course pass / fail so I could see what it was about without having to put in too much of my time.
I found the class interesting, but I didn't invest much time in homework or study outside class. But as I got closer to graduation I slowly realized the course demanded more of me than just my passive attendance.. I was failing the course and if I didn't do well on the final exam I would not have enough credits to graduate. It was PANIC time.
The only time I studied all night was the night before my Entomology 201 final exam. As I dug into the material I began to realize how genuinely rich and valuable the course was. I also realized I had missed a great opportunity since I had only accepted a small portion of what the course had to offer. Just this morning, decades later, I was shown something very profound about that college class.
For most of my life I had taken my Catholic Faith as a pass / fail course. I did what I needed to pass and didn't do much more. Although I was gradually returning to the richness of the faith it wasn't until Marybeth extended an invitation for me to participate in "Core Team" that everything radically changed. That is when I accepted God's invitation to be "all in" surrounded by people who were also "all in". Miracles happen when we surround ourselves with Grace.
Core Team is our opportunity discern God's Will as we work together with others who are doing the same thing. Core Team is a strong invitation for God's grace to pour into our lives. Core Team is a pathway for God's grace flowing through us, into our families and into our parish.
Whether or not we are members of a "Core Team" we can all make a commitment not only to attend the Catholic "class", but to also enrich our lives with prayer. We need to be "all in" making a firm commitment to followup with action any time we receive a prompting from the Holy Spirit.
Every once and a while my day-to-day world gets rocked by an insight so profound it’s disorienting. I had one of those insights last evening watching a Dr. Taylor Marshall podcast on YouTube. Dr. Marshall was interviewing Jesse Romero about his new book, “The Devil in the City of Angels”. As I attended Mass this morning I was shown a way to explain my experience.
A few decades ago I was living in New England. One spring a neighbor invited me for a day of white water rafting. When we arrived the snowmelt had swollen the river so much the guides considered cancelling the trip. But soon we were in the water practicing our rescue technique. “Stay on the raft. If you fall off, float on your back. Keep your feet downstream. Wait for a rope to be thrown from shore.” It seemed easy enough and in the still water of our practice session it was easy to grab the rope and hold-on while being pulled to shore.
I managed to stay on the raft until the really big rapids near the end of the trip. Just as the raft was entering the rapids the guide had us turn but we didn’t line up correctly. The raft struck a rock right where I was sitting. I was now in the flow trying to catch a breath as rocks raced by on either side.
Eventually a person on the shore yelled for me to look for the rescue line. And downstream I could see a person ready to toss me a line. The line landed near me. For a second I thought everything was OK, but it wasn’t. The current was so strong and cold I couldn’t grip the line tight enough to allow me to be pulled out of the strong current of the rapids. I remember thinking of letting go, but instead tried again grabbing the line just tight enough to allow me to be pulled from the traction of the current. Exhausted, I had made it to shore.
Here’s the spiritual insight.
Jesus Christ is standing on the shore ready to pull us into eternal life. But life isn’t a practice session. Last night I realized I was checking-off the boxes, but missing the real struggle. I don’t murder, check. I don’t steal, check. I attend Mass every Sunday, check. I pray daily and read the scriptures, check. I receive the Holy Eucharist frequently, check. But as powerful as the Eucharist is I must have the spiritual “grip strength” to hold-on to the promises it represents.
What I began to see is my spiritual “grip strength” requires me to constantly maintain myself in a state of grace. And that state of grace isn’t just about checking off the boxes. More, it’s about minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day keeping my attention on and getting my direction from Jesus Christ. It was easy for me to check-off the boxes and assume I was saved, but the reality is when I’m not in church or in prayer, I’m not as attentive to the will of God and the Holy Spirit as I’m being called to be.
Life isn’t about, “Put in your church time and you’re OK.” This is about constantly living a life devoted to the will of Jesus Christ. That’s where I recognized I was falling short.
The snowmelt of today’s worldly culture has us in a powerful flow to destruction. Unfortunately we become too wrapped-up in our daily routines to see the eternal danger we are in.
Christ’s saving gift of the Eucharist is the end of a lifeline. That lifeline depends on our priests, our church, the bible, the magisterium and papal succession back to the rock of St. Peter and the founding of Christ’s church. We must not allow ourselves to receive a lifeline from Christ only to let it slip through our weak hands. We need to develop a capacity to remain in a state of grace 24/7, in church, but especially outside church in our normal daily routines. We need to develop a spiritual grip strength that allows us to hold on to the gifts we receive from God.
Core group is about listening to the will of God and working together to act on it. Allow the Eucharist to rock your world by making small sacrifices for him as you appreciate the big sacrifice he made for each one of us.
Fight off spiritual complacency. Don't let eternal life slip through your fingers.