There’s an argument that the largest living organism is a poplar tree, although some in Russia may argue it’s a fungus. The poplar tree is pretty much Canada and the northern portion of the USA and stops at “the tree line” below the Arctic Circle. The giant mushroom is everything above that tree line in Russia and North America. Most of Minnesota has been logged off at least four times since attaining statehood, for paper or lumber. Where I deer hunt in northern Minnesota, a logging company clear-cut a pine forest for pulpwood and sold it to a paper mill. What grew back is millions of tiny poplar trees, as thick as the hair on a dog’s back. Forty years earlier, the pines were hand planted by the paper company for future renewable resource use as pulp. The geography mentioned earlier, is a giant root system for arguable one poplar tree, spanning the entire continent. For the first few years, it’s referred to as “whip poplar” and it grows about five feet per year.
A fascinating fact to know is, every single shoot that grows is unique. No two tree shoots are the same. None have the same pattern of branches and the billions of leaves that they bare are also unique. Even though they are all shaped like the spade suit in a deck of cards, none of them are mathematically identical either. The growth is so dense that, over many years’ time, it begins to choke out the weaker trees and in forty years it will all be logged off again. History repeats itself, over and over again.
One of the fringe benefits to sitting in a deer stand for hours on end is you get to meditate deep thoughts. It’s my favorite place to pray the Rosary; my “Garden of Gethsemane”. For most hunters, it’s really not about meat hunting. It’s a family tradition, a quiet time in a beautiful setting, fresh air and most of all, peace of mind. I think of God as the giant poplar root system that nourishes each of us as abundant as the leaves. He is omnipotent; He is everywhere and always, forever and ever. As we grow old and get harvested to heaven, others grow back in our place. We are renewable. Different forces outside of our control can come and plant genetically altered trees that grow bigger or faster, but when they’re harvested, what grows back is just plain poplar trees. God’s still there, right where we left him.
Sometimes I reflect on the giant root system as the Catholic Church. It too, is renewable. It has survived hardships over the centuries, but always grows back. One example I can think of is during a dark period in Europe when it was beseeched by plagues and marauding hoards from the mid-east and Huns from Mongolia. France and England were intent on destroying one another. Briefly, Rome was in disarray as well. Powerful families controlled the Papacy by appointing family members, even a thirteen year old child as our Pope. Our Church was in disrepair. Other belief systems failed to replace or alter ours.
Concurrent with all the negativity, common holy men and Catholic priests were at work, preaching Gods word, spreading His Blessings and Grace. The populaces were predominantly illiterate and education was difficult, but they taught us. St. Dominic received the Rosary instruction from Mary, St. Benedict, St Francis, St. Ignatius and many others were filled with The Holy Spirit and formed their various “holy orders” and grew the Catholic Church at a time when it was thought to be doomed. We were saved.
We Catholics are constantly under attack, but the Church, God, Jesus are ever present. All we have to do is believe. The way this movie ends, is- we win. Keep praying, keep believing. History repeats itself.
As we say farewell to Fr. Andrew, in his new assignment to the land of the Jolly Green Giant – LeSueur, MN, we reflect on what a fine Chaplain he has been to our KC Council. When he first came to us, fresh out of the seminary, he was somewhat shy. Rapidly, he progressed to a real hands-on member and showed tremendous growth under Fr. Steve’s tutelage. Most Sr. Pastors are spread too thin to become overly involved with all the varying groups and ministries. HNOJ has over one hundred different groups that hale from our campus. The Associate Pastor is usually the buffer or filter to prioritize how best to involve the Pastor.
It’s an accelerated learning experience to come straight out of the seminary and into an Associate Pastor role, especially in a larger parish like HNOJ. Not unlike St. Mary’s in New Haven Conn., where Fr. Michael J. McGivney started as an AP in a large congregation, Fr. Andrew had to jump in with both feet and learn the “Navy way” of swimming. It’s a blessing, in disguise and a great way to learn all the ropes in running a Parish, school and church community. He will make a wonderful Pastor.
Fr. Steve will always be a great teaching Pastor, so HNOJ will benefit from having fresh young seminarian talent, eager to learn. The diversity of our KC members dispersed among all the different ministries at HNOJ is a good conduit to mainstream young associates into the parish community, so we must encourage them to become council members, as long as it is with Fr. Steve’s blessing. Now days, most of the seminarians are brought into KC membership, while attending school. If that’s the case on the next assignee, we can serve as a landing pad for his arrival, whomever it is.
I spoke at the HNOJ Men’s breakfast, last month. This year’s theme for the speakers was to share stories of heroes that have influenced our religious journey. I chose to highlight four different priests, but chose to refer to them as influencers, not heroes. Most priests aren’t in it for the recognition. It’s a calling. One priest, an uncle, stared as a negative influence, but caused me to have an eventual positive result, though it took many years to develop. One was Fr. Arnold, who had the largest influence on mine and Carries Catholicity, but I doubt that I’m the only one ever to claim that. Fr. Tim Morin influenced me to understand that a priest can be a regular guy, just like me. He loved the great outdoors, camping, fishing and golfing. He was my age with a similar childhood and family upbringing. He became overwhelmed and left the priesthood and it caused me to write, “The Rosary for the Overwhelmed”, viewable on our hnojkc.org web site. Finally, I highlighted Fr. Martin Fleming, my namesake and Nazareth Hall room-mate to my father and founder of Trinity Sober Homes. www.trinitysoberhomes.org Fr. Fleming came to the event for a cameo appearance as my guest.
The really interesting thing about priests is many of them are all just like many of us, but they don’t have to be for us to be graced by their presence. They’re not super heroes, infallible from reality, even though the media holds them to a higher standard. If we have little in common, but let them influence us, they will oblige. All we have to do is open the door and let them in.