The Tree of Life

The book of Genesis mentions two trees in the Garden of Eden, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were given the freedom to eat from all, except the second tree. Genesis 3:22-23 says that after the fall, man was banished from the garden so that he would not
eat from the tree of life in his unholiness. But God promised a Saviour who, through His death and resurrection, would crush the head of Satan and save mankind from his venom.

Born Again
When we listen or read the Word of God, we are approaching eternal life. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Further, through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are born again. That promise is seen in Revelation 2:7 – “To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Psalms 1:3 refers to the righteous man, that is a holy person; “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers”. Thus, if I want to be a holy person then I should place myself near a stream of living water, so that I may produce the fruits of the Holy spirit and remainevergreen, unaffected by the seasons of the world. Jesus said to the people around Him, “If any one thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” He who believes in me, as the scripture says, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:37-38). The next verse explains, “Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive.” The Book of Revelations 22:2 says that the tree of life produces the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Through Sacraments
Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation we receive the Holy Spirit. Mathew 12:33 says that the tree is known by its fruit. Ezekiel 28:7 says, you were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. As per 1 Peter 3:21, Baptism is an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, a holy person has the fruits of the Holy Spirit because he received the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments. The two distinct modes of transmission from the Church are the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. Jesus said (John 6:63): “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”, which means that the scripture is different from all philosophy quotes. It is living and active (Hebrew 4:12), that He is a person (John 1:1) and the soul of that person is the Holy Spirit. John 1:4 continues… “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

Transplanted in Fertile Soil
Some people may be upset, or worried or may think that they are not useful, unwanted, ugly, and unworthy. Sometimes these people may be cut down by these feelings or thoughts. Job 14:7-9 says, “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its roots grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.” Ezekiel 17: 1-10 tells us that these trees have to be transplanted in fertile soil; in other words, they need the Word of God. Thus, reading the Bible regularly helps us to thrive like a tree in fertile land. Romans 9:6 says, it is not as though the Word of God had failed, so it will not fail those lives.

None Should Perish
Some people might be prideful, thinking, “I am chosen, and others are not,” However, St Paul says in Romans 11:17-18, if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. This also hints that we are the children of God through Jesus Christ. In Mathew 18:14, Jesus says,“It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

Jesus the Vine
Ezekiel 15:1 says that wood of vine is useless other than to put into fire: “How does the wood of the vine surpass any wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest?” In John 15, however, the meaning is different. Here, we are useful if Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. For this reason, Jesus insist that we should always remain in Him; “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8). How can I know that how close I am to the altar of Jesus? Mathew 12:33 says, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” Let us examine ourselves through the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The tree which produces good fruits will not be cut down but may be pruned so as to yield more fruit. Also Psalm 104:16 says that those who are planted by the Heavenly Father and united to Jesus Christ, will be looked after by our Lord.

John the Baptist says, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mathew 3:10). The aim of all trees planted by God the Father is to produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the intercessor and mediator for all trees as in Luke 13: 8-9, “Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” Ezekiel 47:12 affirms that the trees growing along the banks of the river originate from the temple of God: “On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” So, let us be close to the Altar of Jesus through the Sacraments and the Word of God.

  • by Sebastian Sales from Salford, UK

Defying the Life of Vanity

Expectations, Expectations and More Expectations

From the earliest days of our childhood, we have all been bounded by expectations that the people closest to us have held for us. These expectations vary for each person based on the circumstances that they are raised in. Yet, regardless of these differences, expectations, by their very nature, can cause us to develop a form of “tunnel vision”, a term describing when someone who is solely focused on a certain goal. Conventional wisdom dictates that living a successful life is dependent on the acquisition of worldly possessions; many people perceive success to come with making stacks of money, possessing a plethora of expensive supercars, and/or being idolised by the public. Yet, in the midst of this superficially glamorous pursuit for worldly pleasures, our tunnel vision blinds us from the glory of our Father in heaven, keeping us from receiving the greatest thing in the world-the eternal love of God.

Qoheleth’s Vision of the Life of Vanity

This unfortunate reality is perhaps best depicted no better in the Bible than through the words of Qoheleth (pronounced koh-hel-eth), the primary speaker of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth enquires about “what do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3), and begins experimenting with different things to find out what is actually worth living for. He indulges in many pleasures to see whether indulging in pleasure is meaningful; he states that, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:10). But then, in the verse that follows, he says that,“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). This central theme is as relevant now as it was when it was written. We toil day in and day out for the pleasure that comes with worldly success and greatness, but we fail to understand that without God, all our efforts are in vain.

Breaking Through the Vanity with Christ

When the world pressures us to succumb to the pursuit of a materialistic life, we may think that there is no way to escape it. But St Paul reminds us differently, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Yes, as human beings, we have insecurities, fears, doubts and sinful tendencies. However, God is quite aware of our weaknesses, as He counsels St Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When we choose to surrender our weaknesses to God, He gives us the grace to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, thus enabling us to love and see ourselves as children of God, whose exalted, unchanging dignity is never tarnished by the evershifting, superficial expectations that the world places upon us.

Pursuing Holiness: A Life of Greatness

French novelist Leon Bloy once wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Many of us seem to think that sainthood is a luxury; we fall prey to the idea that only some are capable of achieving sainthood. Yet throughout the New Testament St Paul addresses members of the early Christian community as the “holy ones” or “saints.” As members of the Church we are the “holy ones” who are called to break through the vanity of a materialistic life and its lies. Through prayer we come closer to our loving Father and to realise that our life is precious and beautiful because of our identity as sons and daughters of God. With this realisation, the Holy Spirit will empower us with deeper faith and hope in God, enabling us to face any predicament in life with His grace. If we choose to pursue this life, we will still face difficulties, but we will live every moment with the surreal joy of Christ. This is what it means to live a saintly life, a life of greatness.

  • by Kevin Fleming from Houston, Texas

The Quiet Table

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Women’s Retreat Weekend through my parish, which took place at the beautiful Cardinal Stritch Retreat Center in Mundelein, IL. Throughout the weekend, there were numerous opportunities to silently reflect and pray. We were allowed to talk during some of the meals; however, if we wanted to remain in silence, we could choose to sit at a specific table designated as the “Quiet Table.” I often found myself choosing to sit at the “Quiet Table,” as I was enjoying and (very much) needing the silence.

Silence is a Gift

While sitting in silence one morning over breakfast, I began to smile and quietly laugh to myself, as I was reminded of how I used to view the “Quiet Table” as a child. When I was younger, the “Quiet Table” was used as a form of punishment. Specifically, I remember how one would be sent to the “Quiet Table” during lunch if he/she misbehaved in school, and it was the absolute worst place to be. And yet, as an adult, I found the “Quiet Table” as a gift. How often do we get the chance to rest in silence? Personally, I am always so consumed with thoughts and agenda items that there never seems to be a moment when I have absolutely nothing on my “to do” list. Even if I do experience that rare moment, I immediately begin to stress that I have forgotten something.

I also find it hard to be silent in prayer. One time in college, I was complaining to a priest friend of mine about how I had been praying and praying to God, asking Him for something in particular, and how I did not think God was listening to me. The priest said to me, “Well, have you actually given God time and space to speak?” He was right! I had never thought of this, but I immediately recognized that I was constantly filling my prayer time with words: my prayer intentions, my hopes, my desires. I had never actually let God speak to me. Currently, one of my favourite prayers are the words “speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Even Pope Francis, in one of his daily homilies, reminds us that silence “helps us to discover our mystery. Our mystery of encountering the Lord. Our mystery of walking through life with the Lord.”

Silence is a gift, and we all need a little more of this gift in our lives. So, here’s my challenge for you: Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Try to clear your mind of all thoughts, feelings, anxiety and stress. Just enjoy a brief moment of silence. Embrace the silence. Be thankful for the silence. Rest in God’s presence and let Him speak to you.

– by Rebecca Siar, USA

February 2019 – Editorial

In the great field of the Church, the Word of God is dispensed to one and all. Of the many who hear the gospel, few receive it with the sort of zeal and passion that brings forth fruit. And yet these are the ones who receive the Word on good ground; they hear the Word, take it to heart and bring forth fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty, and some a hundred. All bring forth fruit of the same quality, though maybe not of the same quantity. God expects and requires fruit from everyone, Christian graces daily exercised and Christian duties duly performed.

In this issue, we explore how fasting and defying the life of vanity will draw us closer to the eternal love of God, and how a coronary workout for the soul is recommended to attain heavenly wisdom in order to fall in love with Christ.

Each one of us is a masterpiece created by the master Himself. Let us look to the Lord, so that by His grace our hearts may become good ground, and where the good seed of the Word may produce fruit that will bring praise and glory to God the Father.