On my first trip to the Holy Land with Christian Peacemaker Teams I was privileged to help plant some small olive saplings, on the farm of a Christian family just outside Bethlehem. It was a powerful moment for me. Palestinians say that olive trees are a sign of hope, and a promise to continue. Olive trees live for a long time; in the Garden of Gethsemane, there are a six trees called “witness trees,” that are over 2000 years old—some of them more like 2500. That means that those trees were in the Garden when Jesus prayed after the Last Supper. Some were already at least a few hundred years old. Palestinians today give names to olive trees once they reach 100 years old. They are not only signs of hope, but also signs of accompaniment. Last Monday Kevin Mannara planted a dogwood tree near Rosary Chapel. For me, it, too, is a sign of hope and of accompaniment. He planted it with the firm hope that it will live and grow, and that we will profit from its shade and admire its beauty. Its fragrant white blossoms each May will remind us of Our Lady, in her special month. As it matures over the years it will accompany us, and then those that come after us. It is a sign that in this passing, tumultuous world there is stability and hope and life.
I reflect on these things as we the Church celebrate Pentecost. Besides being considered the “birthday of the Church,” for me it is a sign of hope and of accompaniment. Think about it: according to Luke, the apostles were gathered in fear. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and energized them. The Spirit gave them hope and strength and courage to go out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And we believe that the Holy Spirit continues to accompany us and to nourish us with grace and joy.
As the years pass, I hope that our new tree will grace the grounds with beauty and strength; and I hope that as it grows, it will be a reflection of Kevin’s growth in ministry in Rochester and wherever the Spirit may send him in the future. As the tree accompanies us, may we be reminded of all that he has brought to us, who are the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption. I pray that God’s Spirit that we celebrate today may fill Kevin and each of us with the hope and strength we need to live according to God’s plan for us, and to be assured that we are never alone. God is with us.