I didn’t know what I was doing the first time I pruned the fig tree in our yard. I approached it like a sculpture where you just cut away branches until it looks good. Of course, within weeks my mistake was obvious as the new growth exploded out of the branches chaotically, like teenagers flying out the doors and windows when the police arrive at a house party. When my father-in-law, who grew up on a farm in Italy, saw the mess, he joked: “See if the police can catch the guy who did that to your trees.”
Properly pruning a tree takes more than a look at the branches. You have to know the proper shape of a mature tree and how the buds predict the direction of new growth. You have to know the inner dynamics.
As with fruit trees, there’s an inner dynamic that defines us as human beings. Like branches and leaves, our material characteristics are easy to see. But beneath the surface, the soul animates our intellect, emotions and imagination. When we ignore or neglect it, our lives become like poorly pruned fruit trees, chaotic and unproductive.
Understanding the dynamics of the soul demands listening to its Author, who through salvation history has revealed the Eucharist as the interpretive key to our inner life.
Like us, the Eucharist has material and spiritual elements. Both need our attention.
Unfortunately, we sometimes obsess over our human contributions to the Mass — does the priest preach well, does the music sound good — and forget the deeper spiritual reality beneath the surface. In the penitential rite, our confession clears space in our hearts for God to act. Alive in the Scriptures, the Spirit impresses upon our memory and imagination the reality that our lives are part of salvation history. Then at the Eucharistic Prayer, Jesus really does change mere matter into his body, blood, soul and divinity, and we really do receive him into our souls.
Sometimes our minds are attentive and are moved by all this. That’s good. Like branches and leaves on a tree, our conscious participation in the Eucharist is important. But it’s not the only thing. There are parts of the Gospels where the disciples rejoice, but usually they’re as confused as English majors studying calculus. At first, the Israelites thanked God for manna in the desert, then they groused because nothing else was on the menu. Growing spiritually demands sticking with it even when we cannot perceive growth taking place.
I have learned that the best way to prune is to get a little help from someone who knows what they are doing. We can do that with faith too. When we receive Jesus — body, blood, soul and divinity — into our souls, he does the work that we cannot do on our own.
Northwest Catholic - July/August 2020
Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at email@example.com.
El Diácono Eric Paige es el Director para el Matrimonio, la Vida familiar y Formación en la Arquidiócesis de Seattle. Pueden contactarle en: firstname.lastname@example.org.