Deeper roots in the spiritual life, not unlike the deep roots of an elderberry tree, have a better chance of producing a bountiful harvest!
By Travis Rogers
26 October 2021
The necessity of spiritual growth and maturity is a theme recounted throughout Scripture. Like the many plants in the natural world around us, people must grow both bodily and mentally, but they also must grow spiritually. The elderberry tree – or sambucus – is a desirable and versatile tree, producing a dense bloom of thousands of tiny white flowers in spring to early summer for birds and pollinating insects, followed by a harvest of berries in late summer. The harvested berries are prized for their use in syrups, teas, wines, jams, cereals, breads, and desserts, among other things.
Deep Roots and Strong Branches
In late August I discovered a young and still small elderberry tree growing in a mostly shaded spot at the edge of the forest with a meager harvest of elderberries that were beginning to ripen from green to their luscious shade of dark purple. While I love the earthy and tangy taste of elderberries, I was unimpressed with the scarce amount of fruit on the tree. The young wild tree piqued my curiosity though, and after spending some time reading and mucking about on various horticulture websites and seeing pictures of the trees in their fully grown state, the exceedingly more bountiful amount of berries on larger elderberry trees inspired me to clip a handful of cuttings from the tree so I could allow them to root over the winter and plant them in the spring.
If all goes as planned, the newly planted trees should be able to flower and even produce a small number of berries by the end of next summer, but the true harvest doesn’t come until the next year, when the larger and more established trees will yield many times over more berries than the previous year. My impatient side wishes a large harvest of the tasty berries could be sooner, but my practical side knows that in the early life of the tree, it is important and even essential for the tree to devote its work and energy to growing deep roots and strong branches to establish itself in the soil. If you want a good harvest, or any harvest at all, you want to ensure a strong and healthy tree that is planted in good soil and given adequate water, sunlight, and care.
Rooting Ourselves in the Faith
A strongly rooted foundation is just as essential for Christians rooting themselves in the faith as it is for my fledging elderberry trees. St. Paul urges:
You must live your life according to the Christ you have received – Jesus the Lord; you must be rooted in him and built on him and held firm by the faith you have been taught, and full of thanksgiving.Colossians 2:6-7
And in the words of Our Lord in the famed Parable of the Sower, Jesus warns the listener about having no root:
They have no root in them, they do not last; should some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, they fall away at once.Mark 6:17
These important teachings on individual spiritual growth apply just as well on a larger scale, in our parishes, workplaces, and institutions. Pope St. John XXIII, in his 1963 papal encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace in Truth), reminds the reader of the dangers of seeking immediate results, even if those motivations are well-intentioned:
There are indeed some people who, in their generosity of spirit, burn with a desire to institute wholesale reforms whenever they come across situations which show scant regard for justice or are wholly out of keeping with its claims. They tackle the problem with such impetuosity that one would think they were embarking on some political revolution. We would remind such people that it is the law of nature that all things must be of gradual growth. If there is to be any improvement in human institutions, the work must be done slowly and deliberately from within.Pacem in Terris
Gradual Growth for a Bountiful Harvest
Pope St. John XXIII understood well that the laws of the natural world and the nature of human beings overlap. It is so often the case that slow is fast and fast is slow. I remember when I was fresh out of RCIA and had received my first Sacraments, I felt energized and ready to rush into the world, and this was well and good, but to an extent I had overstepped the fundamentals of my faith: habits of prayer, self-examination, and a continual readiness to receive instruction. Through error, learning, and relearning, I’m beginning to know the value in taking the time and care for a firm rooting, so much like my elderberry cuttings that are (hopefully) taking root and preparing for me to plant them in the spring. Indoors, these upcoming trees are protected from the many insects and wildlife that could make a meal of them. Their tips have been dipped in honey – a natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal – to protect them from infection. They have been placed in well-drained nutrient rich soil in an area of indirect sunlight. All these steps were brought together to give them the ideal conditions to grow. None of this is done so they can live inside forever. As they develop, they will be taken into the harsher outdoor climate to root further, and in time, yield a beautiful harvest!
Travis Rogers instructs students abroad as an online teacher for English as a second language. He ahs a Master’s in Educational Leadership and is currently pursuing his second Master’s in Faith & Culture at the University of St Thomas. He became a Catholic on Easter of 2014 and is learning to love God more every day.