I grew up in a somewhat rural part of New Jersey. In my yard, we had several old trees that had gnarly branches and roots that came to the surface. Under our Japanese Cherry Tree, I found a spot between the exposed roots that fit the contours of my body perfectly. This became “my spot.” Under the boughs of this cherry tree, I finally learned how to read, sew a hem that had “invisible” stitches, completed countless craft projects and got lost in books that took me to places far away. Under the boughs of this tree, I often built a snowman in the winter and shook the pink blossoms loose from the branches to make it “snow” at the end of the spring.
As I grew, I realized that under the branches of a tree, my spirit found solace and peace. It was as if my being sighed, “Ahh!” when I found myself under a canopy of a tree. Recently, I found a poem by Ilan Shamir about trees that makes me pause and revisit my memories. It reads, in part: “Advice from a Tree: Stand tall and proud. Sink your roots deeply into the Earth. Reflect the light of a greater source. Embrace with joy the changing seasons for each yields its own abundance. Seek nourishment from the good things in life. Be content with your natural beauty. Remember your roots….”
I could not help think about this poem and “remembering our roots” as I continue musing about the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Diocese of Harrisburg and the holy men and women that are a part of our history.
One such individual was St. John Neumann. He was a priest from Bohemia who came to the United States in 1836, where he was ordained and later joined the Congregation of the Redemptorists and became the Fourth Bishop of Philadelphia. At that time, our beloved diocese was part of the Diocese of Philadelphia.
Since Bishop Neumann was our canonical shepherd, he was responsible for the spiritual welfare of the faithful all throughout Pennsylvania. Even though he was short of stature and folks would laugh at the way he would ride a horse – his feet did not touch the stirrups – he stood proud because he spoke eight languages fluently! He could converse with numerous immigrants who settled here in their mother tongue, thus providing them not only spiritual support but also caring for their emotional wellbeing. He made countless of visits to parishes within our diocese, confirming close to 2,500 as well as consecrating 20 of our parish churches and personally blessing several of our diocesan and parish cemeteries!
Please go back and read that last sentence! These are not just statistics to St. John Neumann’s apostolic activity! They are facts that root us to the very fiber of the Church. Because of his ordination to the episcopacy, every liturgical action he made could be traced back to the Apostles! Talk about remembering your roots!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this reality this way: “the administration of this sacrament [Confirmation] by them [bishops] demonstrates clearly that its effect is to unite those who receive it more closely to the Church, to her apostolic origins, and to her mission of bearing witness to Christ.” (CCC 1313)
St. John Neumann’s missionary activity also reflected the Light from a Greater Source – Christ Himself. Neumann’s spirituality was rooted in the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer; the Redemptorists, “whose mission is to seek to put into action the command of Christ to ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’”1 That love flowed from devotion and profound reverence of the Eucharist. In fact, St. John Neumann was responsible for spreading the devotion of 40 Hours throughout his diocese. He even penned a special liturgical booklet for its practice! Are you not surprised that our diocese has as a strong adherence to this devotion? Hmmm, should I dare declare, “It’s in our roots?”
Finally, jubilees are also all about embracing joy! Joy that comes from knowing God personally. Joy that comes from the celebration of His fidelity, from partaking in the nourishment that the sacraments provide to our souls. Joy that comes from the changing seasons not only of the liturgical year, but also from the seasons of life. This is such a glorious beauty that can be experienced on so many levels!
It seems like I am not the only one who gets solace under the branches of a tree!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness