About our Pastor:
Born and raised in Seattle, Fr. Joseph Altenhofen holds degrees in psychology from the University of Washington and a Masters of Divinity and Sacred Baccalaureate from Mundelein Seminary. In addition to serving as pastor to Sacred Heart, he's also chaplain for the Newman Center on the campus of Western Washington University.
Weekly Reflection - 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2017
Last week at Mass I showed you all an image I have found helpful over the last couple of years in my spiritual life; the image of the “tree of life.” I have a serious hunch that many of you may want a re-explanation, as well as access to the image, so I’m having my staff put a big copy in the back of the church and will explain as best as I can here. The tree is a foundational image in the story of salvation, playing an intimate role both in the fall from—and the redemption of—grace. In particular I utilized the image in the context of our life in God last Sunday. The image of the tree can also be used to speak about maturation in the faith, the life of virtue, and the conquering of sin, addiction, and vice in our lives.
The root system denotes our relationship with God the Father, because unless this relationship is robust and deep, the other relationships with the members of the Trinity either fail to form or form in a shrunken state. Much like a tree in nature the root system is the supplier of nutrients, stability, and life; and thus is the most important part because without it everything else dies. Without a life-giving rootedness in God the Father, life in Christ never takes on real meaning and the fruits of the Spirit never really manifest.
The trunk of the tree indicates our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is the chiefly visible relationship with God and often the one that receives the most care. Like a tree trunk, the relationship with Jesus speaks to the increasing maturity of faith and marks the continued interaction with the world around us. The trunk is also where we manifest our faith to the world in a “growing” sense—the relationship with Jesus that we all talk about as so important. It is the life in Christ that marks our discipleship and marks us as Christians through our love for one another. It is only in Christ that we are able to manifest any of the marks, or fruits, of the Spirit.
Just as a tree bears fruit when it is connected to the trunk and has a solid root system, so it follows that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the lush foliage and good fruit at the top of our image. The Holy Spirit is lived out as an extension of our life in Christ and gives witness to the strength of our relationship to God. It is important to remember that the fruits we are talking about are love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. The life in Christ is where one sees the outward works of faith, but it is in the fruit of the tree that we see “how” those works are carried out. Just as a rotten tree can still bear fruit, so anyone can still carry out outward works, but only a healthy tree can bear fruit that is worth sharing.
Fr. Joseph Altenhofen
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