In today’s readings there are many references to trees that are meant to describe the might of God and the majesty of our created beings and faith:
When thinking over these various images of trees, I was reminded of one of the great children’s classics by Shel Silverstein entitled The Giving Tree:
The book begins:
Once there was a tree....
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree....
very much. And the tree was happy.
As the boy grows older, however, his interest in the tree becomes less. One day the boy returns as a young man. The tree offers her apples and branches, but the boy claims that he is too old to climb and play. He is more interested in money. The tree has no money, but she does have apples. Why doesn’t the boy pick the apples and sell them then he will be happy. The boy does this and the tree is happy. But then the boy stays away an even longer time.
Years later the boy returns. The tree is overwhelmed with joy as she invites the boy to swing from her branches. But the boy is too busy to play. What he really wants is his own family and a house. The boy can cut her branches and build a house with them, suggests the tree. The boy does this and the tree is happy.
Many years pass before the boy, now middle-aged returns. The tree, overjoyed, invites the boy to play. But now the boy is too old and sad to play. All he wants is a boat which will take him far away. The tree invites the boy to cut down her trunk and make a boat so he can be happy. The boy does this, and the tree is happy but now only a bare stump remains.
What a concept, a giving tree which reminds us of another tree which gave of itself, gave body and blood, gave love and mercy, forgiveness and compassion, acquittal and freedom: The Cross of Christ.
God wants nothing more for us than to be happy. And since He created us, no one has a better handle on what goes into making us happy than He does. The focus of love is the happiness of another’s soul.
Love then is other people which is why there is a Holy Trinity. Love implies another…a beloved who the lover wants to make happy. When Adam finally saw Eve, it was only then he discovered his purpose in life; exclaiming with joy…this one at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Adam fell in love with Eve which produced in both, God’s blessing of happiness and peace.
Sad to say, Adam and Eve seized the forbidden fruit. Self-giving gave way to self-preservation and self-indulgence. Failing to protect His Bride and defend the honor of God, Adam allowed the Devil to overcome Eve and himself and plunge the world into a dark history of sin, suffering, dying and death for us all. Taking place as it did at and from a Tree.
Though having to endure a stained human nature…God’s graces and mercy remain more powerful and effective than any enabling the desire in man’s heart to remain the same, though the ways to get there often suspect, happiness. And one of the great joys in life is to have a home and family as the boy so desires in the book. There is no more happier home-maker than Jesus Christ who prior to His passing away, in preparation for our own, tells us:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you…so that where I am you also may be.
It is people who make a house a home…people who we call family. But we must acknowledge that it is in fact God who gives to us the gifts of our life, love, faith and families. What greater gift is there than when for the first time a husband and wife, now mom and dad hold their child in their arms…is this not the happiness that God has in mind for those he loves?
And yet how tragic it is that no sooner is that child baptized the family is hardly ever seen again, except way down the road to drop that child off at CCD for very limited faith instruction that is hardly ever enhanced and built upon at home. Like the boy in the book, there is a litany of any number of excuses of being too busy, too tired, too bothered.
During the baptism ceremony, families swear an oath to raise that child in the practice of the faith modeling love for God, oneself and one’s neighbor. Of the 168 hours a week, why not find that one hour to go to Church…that one hour to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on First Friday…it is the hour of power…because in that one hour we give to God…He gives to us the gift of Eternity and with that time, His infinite love and promise and investment of everlasting peace and happiness.
How like the boy in the book…the always taking, complaining and hardly ever thanking. And how like another parable of Jesus Christ…the Prodigal Son who demands from his father, impatient for his dropping dead, to give him his share of the inheritance so that he can squander it on riotous living.
But like the boy to the tree, he will eventually return home to the father, not to a finger shaken in the face lecture or get off my property you ingrate kick in the pants…but to a feast celebrating his return. And the Father who seemingly had given him everything to be wasted away, had in fact saved the absolute best gift for last…the giving of mercy.
This is the Father’s stump which provides the son with peace, security, happiness and relief from the exhaustion of life’s relentless beat down by his poor choices.
And this reminds us that nowhere is God’s mercy more seen and given than from the Cross…affectionately referred to as the Tree of Life… the true giving tree…whose dramatic giving Saint Paul describes in this way:
Jesus emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;*
and found human in appearance,e
8he humbled himself,f
becoming obedient to death, even death on a Tree.
As though his tired soul had a tracking device implanted in it, he would invariably return to that tree…which always had something more to give to the boy to make him happy. Concluding the story as an old man the boy says:
"I don't need very much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.
June is the month when the Church celebrates the Sacred Heart of Jesus who in giving tree like fashion says:
And what makes that heart so powerfully comforting and inviting? From that giving tree of the Cross, when Christ breathed His last…a Roman Soldier took his lance and pierced that Sacred Heart which bursting, poured forth blood and water…the water which would become for us the refreshing waters of baptism and His blood which would become for us the nourishment of the Bread of Life.
Having died you would think that Christ would not have anything left to give…but in death He is able to still give and give his absolute most and best…for these sacraments can only be celebrated by way of the Church.
Is not the Church also referred to as the Ship of Peter very capably and carefully steered by the Pope? To jump ship is to risk drowning in the turbulent waters of this world’s emphasis on selfishness. Did not the boy want to build his boat from the wood given to him by the Tree so that he might sail far away from all that made him sad?
And so in coming to the Giving Tree of the Cross we must have the attitude of the Psalmist: Lord it is good to give thanks to you. Absolutely and for so much and nowhere more appropriate and necessary than at Church as you look around is meant to look like the inside of a boat.
As the saying goes…it is better to give than to receive except when it comes to who we receive…and in coming to Church we receive the fullness of Christ not only from the Cross…His entire broken body and all His spilled blood…but from that Tomb now emptied…we receive that same Body renewed, fully resurrected and empowered with eternal life, love, strength and happiness for us to receive.
The word Eucharist means thanksgiving…and though in the story we never hear the boy say thank you…he still comes to the tree…still receives from the Tree the life and love it is always ready and able to give. And so on this Father’s Day Weekend we are reminded of how generous and giving God the Father is…for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…and we receive Him from the Life He gives to us from the Tee of the Cross and from the Host at Church in the Holy Eucharist.