Solemnity of the Dedication of the Abbey Church
(1Ki 8:22-23, 27-30, 1Pe 2:4-9, Lk 19:1-10)
When I’m working in the woods and getting logs for sawmills I’m very conscious of species of trees. I’m delighted when I find a black walnut that’s large enough to harvest and has a nice, straight trunk. Those bring the highest prices. So, my favorite trees are the ones that have value and are marketable. And I’m annoyed with trees that have no worth. Some trees you can’t even give away – they aren’t even good for firewood. Foresters refer to those kinds of trees as weed trees. They just take up space and are good for nothing. And as luck would have it, they’re hard to kill. If you cut them off at the ground they just sprout right back. Within three or four years they’re just as big again as when you cut them off. We have a very heavy deer population on our property and they’re determining the trees that will be here in the future – they just love to browse off black walnut, oaks, maples, cherry, and all the ones that bring the best prices. But weed trees like boxelder and buckthorn they won’t even look at. Any seedling or sapling from a crop tree is doomed, but the weed trees are proliferating.
I tend to value a tree by its worth at the sawmill. But they can have other redeeming qualities. For instance, the sugar maples are especially beautiful this time of year with their fall foliage. So are the hickories and oaks and many of the others. But not the boxelder trees and the buckthorn. They’re just as worthless in the autumn as they are the rest of the year. The buckthorn tree is even made fun of in the Bible. It’s a little, scrubby, bushy thing but in chapter 9 of Judges all the other trees ask it to rule over them, after the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine have declined.
Well, in our second reading, we heard that the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone. Our Brother Barsanuphius has been doing a lot of work at the wood lathe recently in order to produce a fitting piece for a special benefactor that we will be honoring next month. Brother has been experimenting with different species of wood that we have available here, and can you guess what the two finalists are? Yep, wouldn’t you know it . . . boxelder and buckthorn. Buckthorn has a tight-grain, beautiful orange color, and boxelder has a splash of bright red if you can find a tree that is being attacked by boxelder bugs. Yesterday I got a peak at the vase that is the finalist of the finalists and it is stunning. Who would have thought that a weed tree that looks so ugly on the outside could look so beautiful on the inside?!
On one occasion I had remarked to Br. Barsanuphius, “Maybe there’s a homily in this.” And he had replied, “Yes, the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone!” We’re told to not judge a book by its cover. How often does it happen that a person whom we did not give much value to at first ends up being a real gem on the inside once we get to know them? I like to believe that everyone has a hidden treasure buried within. You know, God doesn’t make junk. Each person is a masterpiece. We just have to be patient enough to hang in there and dig long enough. Sometimes the person himself doesn’t even believe in his own richness. He views himself as just a weed tree among crop trees. Who knows . . . maybe God has destined us from all eternity to be a Br. Barsanuphius to that person and layer by layer uncover the stunning vase inside. They may be a diamond in the rough. A master diamond cutter is able to unlock all the beautiful facets inside and produce something that will sparkle and give glory to God for ages.
Another image along the same line would be a geode. Geodes look pretty drab and unattractive on the outside. But once they’re broken or cut open, the incredible beauty within is revealed. I have a large amethyst geode in my room that Fr. Gerard brought back from Brazil. Our daughter-house there gave it to him as a gift. I just marvel every time I look at it.
In regard to the geode, I just mentioned cutting and breaking. That sounds painful like you’re doing violence to something in its original state. Cleaving away the debris of a diamond also involves sharp, decisive blows. And Br. Barsanuphius was able to free the beautiful vase inside with skilled hands and sharp tools called gouges. When it comes to our own inner work on ourselves sometimes it requires painful and decisive actions. Our vices and garbage need to be stripped away so that God’s unique image can shine forth from within with the least amount of obstruction.
Each one of us is a temple of the Holy Trinity. Despite the appearances, we need to believe in and coax forth the treasure within others and within ourselves.