Opening the Word: Re-rooting the mulberry tree

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Catherine Cavadini“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

When considering this passage from Luke’s Gospel, we often sit with the image of the mustard seed. Instead, I’d like to sit with the image of a mulberry tree uprooting and re-rooting itself in the sea. In particular, what if we thought of the mulberry tree as our soul? Reading the image of the mulberry tree as our soul, the passages for this Sunday tell us about the conversion brought about by faith: re-rooting ourselves in the “sea” of Christ’s living water.

Conversion is not a one-time act, through which, for example, one enters the Church. The waters of baptism provide us with the grace needed for the conversion that is a daily, lifelong process for all the faithful. Thinking along these lines, faith is not something we believe in, but a way of being. Faith thus conditions the soul for seeking to understand God more and more deeply, more and more personally, more and more like a friend.

October 2 – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Hab 1:2-3, 2:2-4
Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14
Lk 17:5-10

Dorothy Day once put it this way: The Christian life consists in “being a living mystery … [in living] in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” Our mulberry tree planted in the sea is an image of this living mystery, of the soul rooting itself in God, in living water.

Conversion then is a constant process of becoming Christ-like. The Christian life lived well is a witness to the mystery of God as revealed by Christ’s life and death. Christ, as the Gospels tell us, revealed the Father to us. His revelation was given in the constant flow of compassionate outpouring. Of this Dorothy wrote:

“When] I think of Jesus, I think of someone who was constantly passionate; I think of all His experiences as part of His Passion: the stories He told, the miracles He performed, the sermons He delivered, the suffering He endured, the death He experienced. His whole life was a Passion — the energy, the love, the attention He gave to so many people, to friends and enemies alike.”

Everything — Christ’s full attention, his every word and his every move — was oriented toward the realization of God’s friendship within our hearts and minds.

In this, Christ also gives us the example of Christian discipleship. He, too, was a mystery as the Word Incarnate. But was also, therefore, the mystery of our communion with God. In this, he poured out living water, the mystery of God himself. It even came from his side upon his death. We draw life from this outpouring in our baptism and every day in which we re-root ourselves in Christ.

The Christian life then is a life of conversion. It is not a life of “obligation.” It is a life of love.

Perhaps this helps us make sense of the Gospel’s closing for this Sunday:

“When you have done all you have been commanded, / say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; / we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

At first, this can seem a hard passage. It could even seem to be a harsh passage. Indeed, the Christian life is a difficult one, like planting a tree in the sea.

We will not find it easy to constantly pour ourselves out. Unless that is, our souls are rooted in the “sea” of Christ’s living water, growing down deeper into the mystery of God outpoured. Then, constantly awash in God’s grace, we are poured out with him and in him: a living mystery, a soul in the sea of God’s love.

Catherine Cavadini, Ph.D., is the assistant chair of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology and director of its master’s program in theology.

Catherine Cavadini

Catherine Cavadini, Ph.D., is the assistant chair of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology and director of its master’s program in theology.