Do You Have a Favourite Tree? | Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 1st April 2020

Clongowes Fr Michael Sheil SJ

A strange question, perhaps – but I hope it may make you think back for a moment and see that special tree in your mind’s eye. I am lucky that – even in these times of lockdown – I don’t have to go very far to actually see mine!

I pass it several times a day – without even having to go outdoors.  It stands in full view – between the College Chapel and the ‘66 Building in here Clongowes. It is about 20’ high –  a beautiful shape – and is the first tree to show forth buds in spring (as it is doing as I write) – its early colours are bright/light. But it really comes into its own in the autumn – the first to show its wonderful leafy colours of our annual good-byes as each year draws to its close.

Last October – as, with a mixture of sadness and wonder – I watched its leaves change colour and fall –  I knew that it would return again this year. Well – to be honest – I didn’t really know that I would see it bud again (just as I didn’t actually know that I myself would be around to behold this wondrous sight!)

But here I am every day still thanking God that my tree is there now and that I am here as well!

Changing a word in how I felt looking at my tree back then helps me put things into perspective – as we begin another week of lockdown – and as I look at where we are with worry and wonder. Worry should not be that negative panicky feeling which pushes mé féin as No.1 and heads for panic-buying.

Worry, as positive – can help us be aware of danger and be ready to face it. Who doubts any longer that we are living in worrying times. But we have to trust the people who have the expertise and authority to advise and guide us  – and share our worry.

It is also at times like this that we have the chance to question the meaning of life at a deeper level.

However – like many others – I can only look in wonder at what this challenge has brought about in the way we are rediscovering many values which had got buried at that deeper level – lost in the way we have been leading our “carefree”(?!) lives. All across the world – from friendly neighbours – generous young people with ideas – simple gestures in Family-life and in the community (people singing on their balconies – hanging out the national flag – inventive ways of celebrating Mother’s Day) – are signs of how we unexpectedly refind in ourselves what that wonderful Irish word – meitheal denotes. It is the old Irish custom where neighbours came together to help farmers at harvest time or for turf-cutting and other community-centred events. And the Family is Community No.1 !

However, I have notice that – even in these days of free speech – we see few references to a deeper aspect of  meitheal –  a transcendent value to what we do/are for each other.  This value is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we too often have an image of God-up-there-looking-down which can lead us to ask ourselves what is He doing ? Why can’t He help ? Why He is even allowing covid-19 ?  We might also blame Him for it all – or simply block Him out – as irrelevant or even in bad taste – or politically incorrect  – even as the covid numbers grow !

But to a person of Faith – those acts I mention above about which we read every day  – they are not the actions of a God-up-there-looking-down.  Rather, they are – in the person of Jesus, the reality of God down-here-among-and with-us – suffering with us – helping us – urging us to look after the other person –  putting mé féin No.2 – forgetting ourselves – striving for the magis  and go beyond ourselves – just as He did for us. Is that not just the truth we read in that often displayed [and sometimes laughed at] biblical quote which appears occasionally at sports and other publics events – “John 3:16”. It reads:  God loved the world so much that He sent his only Son.

I believe that He is here with us – in the front line. One of the most positive benefits we have rediscovered is how precious is our Family-life  – and [cf. letter I] what a God-given gift is my Family  – and His gift of me to them!

Like Moses in the desert[cf. Letter II] – let us place our Hope in the pillar of cloud ahead of us by day – and our Faith in the pillar of light at night. In between, let us make God present in this challenging time by our love-in-deeds – for, as St John never ceased to proclaim: God is love – and whoever who live in love live in God – and God in them!

The quality of our giving at this time will decide the quality of the next generation of our Family – our world!

After this past week you may be more aware of the wonder of this transcending mystery of meitheal !


Fr Michael Sheil SJ


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