Monday, June 18, 2018

Lifting Lowly Trees

"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.  A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the sweet earth’s flowing breast.   A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.   A tree that may in summer wear a nest of robins in her hair. Upon whose bosom snow has lain who intimately lives with rain.   Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree."

We begin with this famous poem by Joyce Kilmer to remind us that the leaves of spring are everywhere, and summer is about to begin. Trees make leaves and God makes trees.  God produces so much beauty and trees are only a small part of the majesty we call our planet earth we humans continue to degrade and despoil.  God weeps at the destruction and impoverishment it causes.

We mention God’s trees because today’s first reading from Ezekiel speaks of the majestic cedar – the high tree – and contrasts it with the lowly tree.  There’s a role reversal in this prophet’s message to us.  

The cedar trees, especially of Lebanon, were the greatest of all trees growing to 300 feet tall. They were a symbol of God’s might and power.  They bore fruit and provided shelter.  Yet Ezekiel tells us that God decided to bring low the high cedar – to topple it as if cut down with a chain saw having it crash upon the ground to wither.  

In contrast, God lifted high the lowly tree making it bloom.  In other words, those of us who believe we’re better than those of lower economic status; or better than another race; or better than a person of another faith; or God prefers us over others because we might be favored with good health, a fine job, a wonderful marriage, and trouble-free children, well…get ready, for the mighty can quickly fall and wither.   

Ezekiel warns us, and Jesus tells that God wants all of us to make the lowly bloom.  We do this when we help the poor, the sick, the abandoned, the helpless, and those left on the side of the road.  We are to pursue the common good – our connectedness to each other, our shared obligations and our ideals tied to personal kindness and generosity.

As the English would say, “We are to be blooming good and caring neighbors to those we know and don’t know regardless of their social and economic standing, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.”  For example, we must show our sincerity by respectful, compassionate and sensitive treatment of the LGBT community, a point highlighted by Father James Martin in his 2017 book, “Building a Bridge.”

To repeat Ezekiel, only God can make a tree that puts forth branches and bears fruit.  True, but only we – with God’s encouragement – can make the withered and lowly bloom such as through our generous giving to the Catholic Charities Appeal, and of course, our own St. Vincent DePaul Society.

Our Gospel speaks of the mustard tree – the largest of plants – that grows from the smallest of seeds.  Mark tells us of Jesus addressing the crowds about the scattering of seed on the land.   The seed sprouts and grows.  It yields fruit and then a harvest.  One of these seeds is a mustard seed.  And it grows to produce large branches and provide shelter.   Mark compares this tree and the shelter it provides to the Kingdom of God.

What is Jesus’ point?  We are to scatter seeds by providing shelter to those in need.  We are to provide emotional, physical and financial shelter – comfort, once again through compassion always seeking the common good, not looking after me, myself, and I, but others.  Sorry if I sound like a broken record, but our readings require repetition.

This brings us to today – Father’s Day.  There are many fathers in this Church, including Father Healey.   Most of us have done a decent job with our children – our own, adopted, through marriage, or those for whom we serve as friends and mentors.  Some of us need improvement.  Some of us have failed.  Being a father is an incredibly difficult responsibility for which we need  courage – the kind of courage mentioned in our second reading from 2 Corinthians that refers to our choice to do good and evil.

We began with a poem.  Now we end with a poem written by a woman named Karen K. Boyer.  Her words remind us fathers that we must be mustard seeds for our children  who should be able to dwell in our shade where they can find comfort – where we give evidence of the Kingdom of God by what we say to them and what we do for them.

He never looks for praise
He’s never one to boast
He just goes on quietly working
For those he loves the most.


His dreams are seldom spoken
His wants are very few
And most of the time his worries
Will go unspoken too.


He’s there…a firm foundation
Through all the storms of life
A sturdy hand to hold to
In times of stress and strife.


A true friend we can turn to
When times are good or bad
One of our greatest blessings,
The man that we call Dad.


Deacon David Pierce

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