the tree that survived

The Tree That Survived the Winter

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Today, Fr. Jeremy and I were walking from the church to the rectory, and there was actually sunshine. He said to me, “Every time it comes to springtime, I feel like I survived another winter. I made it through another winter. I kind of feel like that, too. Making it through winter in northeast Ohio is surviving. We conquered something. We made it through winter. It reminded me of the Psalm today: “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face. Let the light of your face shine on us.” We just want God’s light to shine on us. In the Gospel today, Jesus survived. He survived the suffering and death, and ultimately, he entered into the resurrection.

There’s a children’s book called The Tree That Survived the Winter. I want to read just a couple of passages of that to you. And as I do, I want you to think about whether or not there are any difficulties in your life right now. These difficulties are for a purpose – for a reason – and that when we make it through, when we survive, God’s glory will shine upon us. God’s glory will shine in some way.

The tree awakened earlier than usual one morning and stretched out her arms towards the horizon as if to invite the early rays of dawn into her world. She shivered with the light wiggling her roots in the muddy earth, which had only recently yielded its frozen hardness. She sensed something was different. Her roots seemed to be extending further and more firmly into the soil. Her arms seemed to embrace more of the world, not with the timid gestures of a sapling afraid of tangling with the wind, but with the freedom of knowing that the wind could not topple her.

“I have survived winter!” she marveled aloud. “Indeed,” said the sun appearing suddenly from behind a rain cloud. “You have survived the winter because you are very much loved.”  The tree could feel the warmth of the smiling sun penetrate deep into her branches – even through the bark of her trunk.  She stood up tall and proud as if for inspection. “I am rather lovely. Aren’t I?” she asked giving a casual rustle of her blossoms and a graceful curtsy in her bows. “See how well I have survived the winter?”

But then she stopped for the memory of the hard winter sent through her a stab of anger and pain that she thought the spring had healed. “Where were you when I needed you?” she cried out to the sun, and suddenly her pent up anguish found release into a flow of fluid that oozed from the cracks in her bark and trickled down the side of her trunk. “I needed you. I needed you so badly and you weren’t there,” she sobbed. “You’ve been gone for so long and I have been so cold, lonely and scared. The days were so gray when you weren’t here; and even when I could see you in the distance, I couldn’t feel your warmth or seem to reach you with my voice. Didn’t you see me shivering? I became so brittle and I was afraid of breaking. My roots became paralyzed in the earth and my bark cracked open and . . .“ she could no longer go on except to cry out, “and I missed you terribly.” 

The sun’s glow only intensified and the message was repeated. “You have survived the winter because you were very much loved.” “Love,” she hesitated. Not wanting to challenge the statement but needing to be reassured. “It is true,” replied the sun. “If there were days when the clouds seemed to separate us, I was really there even though you couldn’t see me. “And those days when I was visible but remote, when you couldn’t feel my warmth, those were the days when I sent a concentration of light. Why, there were even times when I gave you light and snow at the same time so that the brightness would be reflected up at you as well as shining down. Those were the days when you thought the glare was too strong or light was too bright. You were seeing more than you wanted to see, remember?” 

The tree stood dumbfounded. The sun continued, “The chills of the ice and the bitter cold have toughened your timber just the right degree. For you needed to be strong to carry the fruit that will soon appear on your branches. If I’d stay close to you all winter, you would not have grown this strong. In fact, you would not have become all that I’d hoped and dreamed you could be. But now, just look at you.” A blush of pink coursed through her petals. The tree stood speechless. 

“You have survived the winter because you are and were and will always be loved” said the sun. “For that small deep place within you that remained unfrozen, open to mystery, that is where I have made my dwelling. And, long, long before you felt my warmth surrounding you, you were being freed and formed from within ways so deep and profound that you could not possibly have known what was happening.”

“I, I believed” she whispered. Noticing that the words seem to come from that inner space deep within her. “Yes, you have believed it,” sparkled the sun. “You have always believed and that’s what enabled you to grow. For had you not kept faith with me in the center of your being, you would have not blossomed into you.”

Just as the tree survived the winter and was made more beautiful and strong because of the experience, the same is true for us and as it was for Christ. In the Gospel today, Christ comes before his disciples in the resurrected form, and they don’t recognize him. They’re not able to realize that this is Jesus right in front of them until he says, “See my hands and my feet. Look at me. Touch me.” And then he says my favorite line of all.  He says, “Have you got anything here to eat? I’m hungry.” He shows them that he is real. That even in the resurrection, he still embodies this person as Jesus. Ultimately, he goes on to reveal to them all of scripture; how he had to suffer, how he had to die, and how he rose.

And just as we have made it through another winter here in Cleveland, ultimately we will, with Jesus, survive any suffering in our life. We will survive all the deaths of our life (even our final death), but we will rise with him. It’s all because we are very much loved. From the moment of our baptism, we were chosen. We were chosen to be with Christ. We were chosen to experience suffering, to experience death, to experience the darkness of this winter, and ultimately through that experience, to rise to new life – to be strong and to be the person God created us to be. So, whatever we may be going through in our life right now (in suffering or difficulty or dying), also know that he is with you and will bring you to new life.

That’s what we celebrate this Easter season and already we get to see the glimpse of that. We are already experiencing the Resurrected Christ in our body. Already we can say, “I’ve survived the winter.”

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.