33rd Sunday  B   –  Something That Lasts

A huge old pine tree was taken down a few weeks ago. It stood some ten or fifteen meters from my front window and, with its score or more of sylvan neighbours, it looked like it had been there from time immemorial. It was part of the landscape, had become part of my world, but the old dendron was well into senescence and disease and may not have survived another season of Ireland’s winter storms. A lot of damage would have been done had the stricken tree fallen in a storm. It’s removal left me with an initial sense of loss but with a deeper sense of relief as I remembered the massive winds of  Irish winters past. While climate change and the rapid spread of Covid-19 are probably not directly related, both seem to be influenced for worse by our high-end lifestyle and addiction to all things ‘fattening, sinful and immoral’, as the late Oscar Wilde once quipped.

Disease in old trees is not the only sickness on the planet. Addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, sex, food or whatever is the great disease of our time. We are addicted to our consumerist lifestyle and, as anyone in addiction recovery will tell you, addiction cannot be overcome without a spiritual awakening. Mark’s Gospel this Sunday is a wake-up call. Jesus talks about a time when the sun will be darkened, the moon lose its brightness and stars come tumbling from the heavens…. All very scary, but symbolic. Makes me feel life as I’ve known it is careering out of control. But it’s not. Whereas these things may or may not happen, the immortal words of Jesus are reassuring: my words will last forever. He is offering a message of hope. To quote the oft quoted words of Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Take the fig tree as a parable. In springtime, sap rises in fruit trees, branches become tender and leaves sprout, and those with eyes to see know that fruit is on the way. Leaves that have turned brown and fallen to the ground do not mean the tree is doomed. The gardener recognises that new life is being born; he has eyes to see and ears to hear the message of the seasons. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” God’s word comes to us like the signs of the seasons come to the attentive gardener. To attend to our conscience is to listen to God’s word. We are not good at that. We go about our daily business but are often deaf or indifferent to the voice of conscience. We are now near the end of Jesus’ life in the Gospel, and Mark recalls the voice that cried in the wilderness for our attention at the beginning of Jesus’ life – Mark 1: 3. Have we followed him all these weeks without listening, without noticing?

My words will not pass away. God’s word always calls us to surrender to the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God – Mark 1:1. He calls us not only to give up our sinful ways, our distractions and addictions; God calls us to see life differently. He invites us into the mind and consciousness of Christ. American Trappist monk Thomas Keating wrote this little eleven-word poem that tells how his consciousness was transformed through encounter with God’s word: Only the Divine matters / And because the Divine matters / Everything matters. The poetry and imagery of Scripture is a necessary ingredient to wake us up and make us vulnerable to God’s word – cf. Hebrews 4:12-13. “Faith can be stifled by mere prose; it needs some touch of poetry to find its fire.” – Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher. The giant pine tree is no more, and when I look out the window I see more than I saw before.

Fr. QQ – 11/10/2021


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