We hear this image today in the first reading of the prophet Jeremiah who says Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretch its roots to the stream. It fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; it shows no distress in the year of drought.
I was meditating on this tree planted by the water and trying to understand more what this means. As I was researching, I came across the notion of wildfires. You know we have had a lot of wildfires recently in the west, and somehow trees can survive the hottest, most intense flames. The whole forest can catch on fire and sweep it out, but some trees survive. What makes them survive? The primary thing that allows them to survive is that they have profound roots that go into the ground, so they are constantly fed by water no matter how hot the fire is. As the water evaporates through the leaves or is heated through them, it sucks even more water up into the tree. So, it can stay moist even amid this heat. They also have solid thick bark that has grown deeper and deeper over the years. So, when the fire comes, if it burns the top of the tree or the tree nearly to the ground, it survives because of this deep root structure, the source of water that is so connected to it.
As I was thinking about that, I realized that we have a deep root system as Catholics (we come to Mass every Sunday, receive the sacraments, and pray every day). Think about your life. How many Sundays have you come to Mass over your whole life? I am 42 right now, and if I were to do the math on all those Sundays, my roots would have grown deeper and deeper every Sunday I have come to Mass and received the Eucharist. The same is true for you. Suppose you think about your life. How many Sundays have you come to Mass over the time since you were baptized? Your roots are so deep and so connected to the source of water that you can survive the fire. There is a fire raging around us. All of us are going through so many difficulties and sufferings in life, but here is the thing, you can endure it. You are planted so deep in the source that no matter how much the fire blazes, you will survive.
Just like the prophet where Jeremiah was using the tree near the water as an image, I am using a tree that survives a forest fire to show that our faith is really at the heart of the matter. The reality is that we, throughout our lives, are always choosing life or death. When we remain rooted in the sacraments, rooted in our faith, and rooted in our prayer, we are choosing life, and that life will ultimately take us to eternal life. So, we will survive the difficulties here on earth, not only the flames that rage against us, not only the flames of purgatory; we will survive that all into heaven. But, if we do not stay near the water, it ends in death if we do not remain deeply rooted in the source. The fire overtakes us.
The thing is, you cannot just once come to God and then have that life forever. We need to be receiving that water constantly. I do not know if any of you use that App tracking on your phone or on your smartwatch that tracks how many glasses of water you drink every day? The men are supposed to have 14 glasses every day. I think for women, it is 12. How many of you do that? One of the things with water is that you are supposed to drink water before you are thirsty. If you get thirsty, it means you are already dehydrated. It is too late for you to get the water.
The same is the spiritual life. We need to drink before we get thirsty. We need to receive the sacraments before we are thirsty because if we do not, then the fires of this world will take us out. It is so important for us to be resolved in that. We have our roots so deep in it that after a whole lifetime, if we can go without ever missing Mass every Sunday, our roots will grow so deep that we will be connected to the source of water, to Jesus, who is our source of life.
I hope most of all you take great strength from this homily. That you know who you are and know you are connected to the source of life. If you are going through any difficulty, know that you are made to endure it. You were created to survive the fires of this life. So, take great hope in that. Take great trust in that. No matter what is going on, you are connected to the source, and you were created and destined to survive it.
As we profess the Creed, this Mass lets us remember that there is a connection to the source of life, and by being connected to that water with deep roots throughout our whole lives, we can survive the fire.