Forsythia flowers are my favorite sign that spring has arrived. Here in New Jersey, the flowers of the forsythia shrub appear every year around mid to late March, creating an explosion of yellow along landscapes and roadways.
Even though I had always loved these flowers as a sign of springtime hope, I came to love them even more after my mother died on the first day of spring 11 years ago. The homilist at her funeral told my family and me that every year we should think of my mother when we saw the forsythia beginning to bloom, and we should know that those flowers were a sign of the new life she now enjoys forever with God.
So, while the blooms are in season, I often take a branch from the shrub and keep it in a jar or vase filled with water, and those delicate flowers minister to me, offering a welcome reminder of resurrection hope.
This past spring, I clipped a branch from the shrub later in the season than I usually do, and as a result, I experienced something of a “forsythia first”: One morning in April, I was amazed to see that there were green leaves sprouting from the branch of yellow flowers sitting in the jar in my living room. The leaves were just like the ones that had begun to appear on the shrubs outside. The flowers on the branch were starting to wither, and I had figured that this would be the end of the message of hope that this particular branch would be preaching to me. But instead, those new and tender green leaves reminded me that even as suffering and death and all kinds of loss push into our world, still, life insists.
Life insists because God insists. Even with all of the pain of the past year, even with the injury added to wounds of injustice and division, even with isolation and anxiety and sickness and death, God insists that the last word will be life.
I think of that forsythia branch when I pray with today’s readings. In the first reading, Ezekiel tells of a God who will bring renewal and strength from a young branch that God will tear from the top of the mighty cedar tree. God will plant this branch, and it will be the beginning of a new tree, one that will flourish and give a home to all kinds of birds, so that everyone will know that the God of Israel makes small things great and great things small.
Through this image, Ezekiel is really talking about God raising up a new king for sixth-century-BCE Jerusalem.
Even though the sins of the people have brought the people quite low, God will bring a new day of promise. The tree that will grow from the tender shoot is the new king that God will raise up—a king who will rebuild the defeated House of David. The God of Israel will do this—the God who is faithful and patient with the missteps of humanity.
In today’s Gospel, the mustard seed that Jesus speaks of also gives a message about God’s patience and promise. This seed is tiny, but, like the cedar branch, it too can grow into something so big that, according to Jesus, birds of the sky can find shade in it.
In reality, it’s unlikely that birds would build a nest in a mustard plant, but the reach of the mustard plant does stretch far and wide—all from a tiny seed. Wild mustard is nothing if not invasive! So, when Jesus compares the potential of this tiny seed to the potential of God’s reign, he calls us to know the expansiveness and invasiveness of God’s plan for good. And he calls us to know that we have a role in making the reign of God happen. God’s reign is where no one goes without. It’s where there’s love, where there’s peace. God’s reign is where right relationship is the only kind of relationship.
We’re not there yet, but in God’s design, our mustard-seed steps to get there all have value. Life insists because God insists. Indeed, it’s painful when we look at the amount of need in our world and know that most of us can fill only a tiny part of that need. But since we know that each person has untold worth in the eyes of God, we trust that whatever we do to help even one person does have value and does help to build the reign of God.
So, people of God, keep building! All of our efforts mean something. Ultimately, God is the one who will grow life, ever so patiently, from tiny seeds and little branches. So, plant the seed. Welcome the green leaves. Pray “Thy kingdom come,” and know that your prayer will be answered. Life insists because God insists.
Gina Scaringella, OP
Gina Scaringella, OP
Gina Scaringella, OP, is a Sister of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, who professed first vows in August 2019. She currently provides editorial and research support for the study of the restoration of women to the diaconate. As a Dominican, she embraces the sacred call to preach God’s love with hope that others will receive and embody this love. She preaches through both spoken and written word in parish and retreat settings as well as for her Caldwell congregation.
She has served in campus ministry, retreat ministry, RCIA, hospice, ESL study, and communications. An enthusiast for proper, effective use of language, she was a medical copyeditor for 16 years before entering religious life. In 2020, she copyedited Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry. She spent 10 years teaching foreign languages in Catholic high schools and colleges. The seed for this work was planted during an Ignatian retreat sponsored by her alma mater, Georgetown University, when she discerned a nudge toward this path. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Italian from Georgetown and a master’s degree, also in Italian, from Rutgers University.
A New Jersey native, she has spent many graced moments near the ocean, a place that never fails to awaken her to the goodness of God.
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