Greetings everyone… as those of you who follow me on twitter and facebook probably know by now, a week ago tomorrow, my Father, quite suddenly and shockingly passed away. I can’t find the words right now to explain my feelings. People, very thoughtfully, keep asking ‘how are you’ and quite honestly all I can say is “I don’t know.” But I appreciate all of the prayers and special words of consolation. This is my homily for Sunday October 12 (the readings can be found here: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/101214.cfm) . I had completed working on the homily about 2 hours before I got the awful news. I’m praying I’ll be able to deliver it tonight at Mass here on campus.
With the birth of my Godsons, Goddaughter and nieces over the years, the remembrance of different stories and books that Mom would read to me before bed came to mind. It strikes me as odd that books that I might have read a year or two ago kind of fade from memory very quickly – but I can immediately recall and tell you all about “The Monster at the end of the book” (which, spoiler alert was Grover from Sesame Street); “Me too Iguana” (possibly targeted to me as the youngest who always wanted to do what my brothers were doing) or “The Giant Jam Sandwich” – one of my favorites about a unique way a town dealt with their wasp problem (something tells me PETA wouldn’t like that one). Maybe those images and stories being told at such an early age were apart of the earliest memories that they are hard to forget.
One that has always stayed with me has been“The Giving Tree.” Have any of you read that one?
It’s the story of a boy and a tree who are able to talk to each other. It starts out the boy is a little kid – who would play in the tree, eat her apples, fall asleep in her shade. The boy loved the tree and that made the tree happy. But as the boy became older, things changed. The tree still wanted the boy to play and enjoy the tree as he used to – but the boy explained I’m too big to climb, I want to have things – I want money. The tree explained that she didn’t have money but offered her apples which could be sold and could get him money. So the boy did just that – he climbed, took the apples, sold them and left. Then he’s gone for awhile – some years in fact – and then the boy needs a home for his family, so he returned to the tree, and the tree is happy to see him, but says she doesn’t really have a home to offer him. So she offers her branches to be cut and used to build a home – and so he does just that. He cuts them down, uses them and leaves the tree alone again for years again. Then the boy (now a middle aged man) wants a boat to as he puts it “take me far away from here” (not quite sure what happened with the wife and kids that all of a sudden this guy needed to get out of town, but I digress) – The tree offers her trunk leaving only a stump left. Years later when the boy came back – the tree said “I’m sorry boy, I have no apples left for you to eat,… my branches are gone… you can’t swing on them… My trunk is gone… you can’t climb on it.” After the boy basically explains he can’t eat apples, he’s too old to swing from branches, he’s too frail to climb – he explains he’s simply tired. And the tree offers her stump for a place to rest, which the “boy” does and the book ends “And the tree was happy.”
There was something that was always beautiful and incredibly sad to me about that book. Obviously
as a young kid being read the book, I didn’t know that there was any controversy attached to it, especially since it was published back in 1964. Just two years ago the School Library Journal (you know it’s credible when the word “Journal” is in the name of the publication) called it the “most divisive book in children’s literature.” Some saw it as a beautiful story illustrating selfless love. Others were more negative saying the boy and the tree had a sado-masochistic relationship (!!!!) And many people espouse different interpretations: The tree represents God or Jesus and the boy represents humankind. The tree represents Mother Nature and the boy represents humankind. The tree and the boy are friends (i.e., “the message of the tale is seen as a relation between adults”). The tree and the boy have a parent-child relationship. Like a parable, the message of the book was misunderstood by many. The parables Jesus told were not always understood either.
The way we express our gratitude is by what we’re doing right now – worship. Did you know that the word Eucharist actually means Thanksgiving. So it’s not just that we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist – and that we receive His word in these scriptures we’ve heard proclaimed – this whole event of Mass is meant to be our worship, our thanksgiving to God for all He’s done for us. It is a spiritual feast that He has invited us to join Him and other believers. Everything is ready. In that we receive the selfless, unconditional love of God – and we begin to express our gratitude as humbly and meekly as we can. With the hopes that as we go forth when we’re dismissed we’re going to use our gift of freedom and look for opportunities to look for God’s opportunities put before us … to show our gratitude to Him:
· To be selfless.
· To be loving
· To be forgiving.
· To care for those who are in need.
· To invite others to the feast that we’re privileged to be invited to.
These are all things that God has done for us. He is blessing us to be a blessing.
So In doing that, the giving tree the Cross, an instrument of death where Christ gave away everything for us, doesn’t become an object of something we take from – but a life-giving tree that continues to grow, continues to nourish us and bring life. In that life, we can continue Jesus’ efforts of reaching out to a world that hurts, but doesn’t know the Healer. We can introduce them and invite them to a wonderful Host at the greatest party ever … the Kingdom of God. Through our efforts for Jesus, showing our thanks for all He has done, the invitation can go out to all the world and God’s Spirit can bring salvation for those who accept.