I remember well when I was seven or eight years old, having heard somewhere that one should not damage the bark of a tree, especially that one should not cut the bark of a tree all around; this was called ringing a tree. Curious to see what would happen, I ringed anice ash tree which was about a foot in diameter. This tree did not belong to us. Some time later my father noticed it. I haven’t ringed any trees ever since.
For some time the tree showed no signs of damage in the branches and leaves but gradually the foliage began to wilt and die. By the following spring the tree was well and truly dead and was cut down and burned as firewood. I have always regretted this act of vandalism for a number of reasons.
Today’s Gospel uses this as a simile of what happens when I lose contact with Jesus of Nazareth. I am cut off from the sap of the Spirit. I begin to wilt. I begin to drift away from the church community. I begin to not pray. I begin to attend the Mass less frequently and then not at all. I seldom think of God and then only when disaster strikes.
Spiritually I die and can only be used as ‘firewood.’ From time to time some of you have asked me about someone who was once part of our parish community. Have they moved house you ask? Are they unwell you ask? Have they died you ask? The answer of course is yes – they have been ringed and died spiritually.
This is nothing strange. A once strong friendship will, through neglect, slowly wither and die. A once single figure golf handicap will, for lack of practise, become a double figure handicap.
A once familiarity with my God will, through neglect, become a mere nodding acquaintance.
We all know how to fix this situation – the very same way you fix your golf handicap or your neglected friendship.