Good Zeal

My Gospel Tree

Magnolia blossom on treeI love liturgical readings that are very earthy, especially those that reveal the richness of Jesus’ parables for growing in God’s life. One of my favorite parables is that of the sower and the seed (Mt 13). This parable depicts seeds that make it and seeds that don’t. Every time I read this parable, I want to be the seed that falls on good soil that will bear grain and survive. Another favorite parable is that of the mustard seed: “It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches (13:32).”

In front of the main the monastery building stand two majestically enormous Southern magnolia trees. I’m not sure exactly how old they are, but one of the Sisters tells me they were here when she arrived 75 years ago. Whenever I stroll up the sidewalk under this tree, I am always amazed at the grandiose sturdiness of its trunk and branches. The ever-present greenness of the leaves uplifts my spirits no matter the season of the year. The magnificent magnolia blossoms with their sweet fragrance remind me of God’s presence all around me. As I stand under the tree’s breathtaking beauty, I think of the small seed that has grown to reveal God’s beauty and abundant love to me. I think of the stability of the enormous trunk, roots, and branches that no tornado or ice storm can destroy (at least not yet). As I ponder this tree’s life-giving beauty in the midst of this humid summer season, I am aware that there are no weeds or wilting leaves in its vicinity. The trunk and branches create a cross. The branches’ arms are extended to the world. I think of  the words for Jn 15:4, “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”

This iconic tree invites me to renew my Benedictine vow of stability. Cistercian monk Michael Casey says “Stability is not a matter of immobility or resistance to change but of maintaining one’s momentum (“The Value of Stability” Cistercian Studies Quarterly, 1966).” I must keep up the daily momentum of prayer, fruitful relationships, and loving service to all those I meet. I must be rooted in this holy ground. I must become as beautiful and life-giving as this faithful tree, the icon of Jesus, the Tree of Life, the all-embracing Gift of Love. In the words of Anselm Grün, OSB, “Living in the presence of God, we encounter ourselves at every turn. God, in turn, confronts us with our own reality so that we can recognize it and allow it to be purified by God (Benedict of Nursia, Anselm Grün, Liturgical Press, 2006).”

I vow to take the image of this “perfect” tree wherever I go. I vow to return to the holy ground of this tree whenever the seed within me is no longer deep in rich soil. I vow to become as “Holy” as this loving Tree of Life.”

By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB

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