There are innumerable kinds of trees growing across the land. Trees enjoy those types of shapes that babies can readily identify, and early on add to their growing vocabulary. Of course, there are different kinds of trees, each with its own kind of name, and babies are not as adept, while still babies, at naming and identifying the different species. But they can, early on, tell the difference between a tree and a flower.
But there are many kinds of trees, and it is only with the passage of time that a baby (now a youngster) can begin to identify, distinguish and even name these various kinds. Among the many ways for identifying trees, and distinguishing them from one another, is the length of time that it takes for a tree to fully develop and attain its final form and shape. There is value in knowing the quality of timber one intends to use in planning to build a house, in terms of its inner framework, but also in terms of the exterior setting and surroundings of the house, especially if it is being built on a piece of property devoid of an abundance of trees, leaving it open to the elements of the weather.
A home-builder, sensitive to this setting, may early on want to take steps toward improving the newly purchased land, not only to beautify it, but also to enhance the protection it might offer against inclement weather, whether severe blasts of wintry winds, or the relentless heat with which a blazing sun can bake the land.
Trees can offer help in this effort. One might think of planting a fast-growing tree that, within a few years, can reach a height and fullness that satisfies the owner of the property, offering him or her early protection against both the penetrating winds of winter, and the enervating pall of summer. A tree such as the poplar meets such hoped for results, given its capacity for rapid growth. Within a relatively few years it can reach full maturity, offering the landowner and his/her house protection against both summer’s consuming heat and winter’s bone-chilling blasts.
But there is a downside to the benefits offered by the poplar. Its longevity is short, so that, within a few years, its value as an asset begins to diminish, suggesting the wisdom of a fall-back plan to compensate for a now failing poplar tree. A far-sighted land-developer would anticipate this, so that, even at the time of planting poplars on his property, he or she would, if soil the condition is favorable, also plant a completely different kind of tree, such as the sequoia or the redwood. But this decision calls for patience. Unlike the quick-growing poplar tree, the sequoia and/or redwood are very slow-growing trees, requiring an amount of time that will far outlast the lifespan of the property-owner. Only his or her children or grand-children will begin to reap the benefits afforded by these two magnificent specimens, growing upward toward the skies above, while sinking their roots down into mother earth below. They too, like the poplar, can fulfill the purposes of protection from summer’s heat and winter’s cold.
Are there any implications in this tree reflection for something other than property improvement? There are. The question of our own growth, in the sight of God, arises. For example, some of us are quick responders; that is, we grow in our relationship to God fairly rapidly, often with much enthusiasm and initiative. In this regard, we’re like the poplar trees. With little prodding, and in a short period of time, there are some of us who experience a closeness to God, a friendship with Him, a sense of His warming presence to us, and His protection against a chilling sense of coldness or aloofness from Him. Some adult converts to the faith experience this kind of heart-warming experience in a new experience of God’s closeness to them. The apostle St. Paul is an example of someone suddenly encountering God, in the person of Jesus Christ, and undergoing a conversion of instant and enormous proportions, leaving him enthusiastic and energetic in this new experience of God.
But there are others among us who more slowly respond. These are those who have been watered and enriched and protected as lifelong Catholics, but without any signs of enthusiasm on our part. They have been dutiful Catholics/Christians their whole life, but, so it may seem to them, with little sign of spiritual development or growth. They just seem to plod along. But somewhere along the way an occasional bit of heart-warming occurs within them, suggesting they are not as lukewarm as they thought, that there is a spark of life within them. They’re like the sequoias or the redwoods. They need time and space to develop, laying out an elaborate root system at their base. And all along they have been slowly growing into someone pleasing to God. They are like St. Peter in this regard, who was an associate of the Lord from the very beginning, slipping here and there, but gradually becoming the rock (the meaning of the name Peter) on which the church is being built.
There are two ways to grow: quick and slow. Each is valuable in its own way. The important thing is for growth to occur, if not sooner, then later, so that we can begin to enjoy the shade and warmth like both the poplar and the sequoia/redwood can provide in God’s acre we occupy