"When I taught at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, there was, one afternoon, a sudden wind-storm that packed a powerful punch. I was on campus at the time, but later, when the all-clear signals were given and we could return home, I was shocked to see the damage from such a brief though intense storm. Our residential area was a seven or eight block street that was lined with tall beautiful trees that formed a canopy over the area. In the summer the sunlight through those large leafy trees was just lovely. This day I stared at seven blocks of trees, a number of them drowned, uprooted, and damaged beyond repair. I couldn't believe it; the roots of those large trees were VERY shallow. I thought I had learned a lesson spiritually about to need to put down deep roots in Christ in order to withstand the storms of life, and I used that example in many talks.
However....I was speaking at a diocesan conference in the Midwest, and I used this example to explain that if we are going to participate in the New Evangelization, we need to make sure our roots are deep in Christ. In the New Evangelization, it is not primarily a matter of teaching people Church doctrine but, rather, of showing forth in our lives the presence of Christ so that those who hear the good news would be drawn to him. If our roots are not deep in Christ, if we don't know him, what do we have to offer?
After my talk, a man came up and asked me if I knew why the roots of those trees were so shallow. I said I presumed that it was related to the kind of trees they were, which I could not identify. "No," he said. "The problem was that the roots were never tested. He then went on to explain that water must have been plentiful for those trees; the roots did not have to dig down deep to find water. As a result, although they looked beautiful and strong, they were, in reality, very weak."
Sister Ann offers this reflection:
"As a people, we have not really been tested. We have not had to search deeply for strength, wisdom, and courage when it comes to matters of faith. We have enjoyed peace and the freedom to worship, to speak, to evangelise, to invite, to form Bible study groups and prayer groups, and to build retreats and conferences, with no penalties attached to doing so."
I sometime bemoan the fact that things are a real struggle at St. James. Instead of seeing growth we are seeing people die, leave or stay away because of old age and sickness. Plans don't come to fruition and the things we plan to do don't seem to work. Attempts at making changes to the interior of the building are opposed and attendances at house groups fluctuate. The church is cold and there is damp on the walls. The organ stopped working over a year ago and for a while we used a smaller replacement which was given to us until that developed problems. We then fell back on a electric keyboard but that too has died. We are blessed now to have a few good musicians who lead the worship and the small choir we have but that is not all plain sailing with the choir shrinking rather than growing.
I say all this not because I want people to feel sorry for us. In fact in some ways quite the opposite. God is teaching us much through all of this and, as the above excerpt from Sister Ann's book reminds us, this is God's way of actually growing us. Not up in numbers, but, hopefully down in depth and maturity. We need therefore to work WITH God in this and continue to pray, persevere and persist in what He has called us to do. If the roots go down deep enough in time we will hit water and begin to show fruit.