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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

602 Little acts of charity that go unseen are part of the glue that holds the world together

Day 602 Sunday, November 7, 2021

Little acts of charity that go unseen, unremarked, and certainly unheralded, are part of the glue that holds the world together.

Reflection by Jim Fredericks

I think most of you will remember that on 15 April 2019 a fire broke out in the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris. Notre Dame was almost destroyed.

Apparently, the fire started in a part of the Cathedral called la forêt (the forest). This is the area above the vaulted ceilings that seem to float above the interior of the church. In other words, the fire broke out in Notre Dame’s attic. This part of the church is called “the forest” because a small forest of oak was felled to build this beautiful expression of our faith.

Here is an unusual photo of the fire within the forêt.

Happily, the people of France are making progress in rebuilding their church.

I am told that the monks of the contemplative community of La Trappe have felled two great oak trees on the grounds of their monastery to provide wood to replenish the burnt oak beams of the forêt.

This from Dom Thomas Georgeon, the abbot of the Abbey of La Trappe in France:

I blessed the trees in the forest—something very simple. I said a prayer for all the people who are working on the reconstruction of the cathedral, asking also for the blessing of God on our community in our participation in this process.

When the forestry expert told me that our two oaks will help rebuild the spire, I said, ‘Oh, I love it.’ Because there is an idea of elevation in our contemplative life—trying to elevate the world toward God. I don’t know where our oaks will be, but if we are at the bottom, a little bit hidden, we know that we will support the whole spire, as we are trying to support the world with our prayers.”

(“La Trappe,” by the way, is where we get the word “Trappist.” Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk).

I need to say that my feelings swung in two directions when I learned that the monks were cutting down two of their oaks. Rebuilding the Cathedral is certainly a worthy cause. But, on the other hand, the trees are two hundred years old.

And they are oaks.

(foresters with one of the oaks from La Trappe)

When I was a student in the seminary, there was a beautiful oak tree – easily two hundred years old and probably much older – that blessed me every day as I walked by it. Some years ago, this gracious gift of God took ill (some kind of blight) and came down. Now, it feels as if there is a gaping hole in the universe where my friend once stood and greeted me every day.

I thought of this lost oak when I learned that the monks of La Trappe were donating two of the oaks on their land to help rebuild Notre Dame.

Yes: my feelings swung violently in two directions when I learned of the generosity of the monks. Being contemplatives, I think it safe to say that the monks feel the loss of these oaks more than the rest of us. It is a beautiful gift.

I want to tell you about the abbot’s comment regarding the community’s gift.

The abbot of La Trappe said that the community wants the wood to be used as beams within the forêt where it cannot be seen by people visiting the church below. The monks want the new oak beams to hold up Notre Dame as the old beams did for over eight hundred years: unseen, unremarked, unheralded. For this is what contemplative monks do in service to the Church – a good Trappist goes unseen, quietly supporting the Church with his prayers.

(Trappists at La Trappe)

Sometimes I am convinced that the only reason the universe hasn’t completely come apart at the seams is that there are contemplative men and women, dwelling in the deep darkness of the Creator, holding it all together as we go about our lives.

Donating the trees might not seem remarkable. Just cut down a couple of trees and ship the wood to Paris. In fact, I think it is a costly gift for these monks, and a gift that is very beautiful in the eyes of God. The gift of the Trappists is all the more beautiful in the eyes of God because it will be invisible to the eyes of human beings.

Now I can get to the Gospel today.

Mark tells us that Jesus is in the Temple precincts. He is standing opposite the treasury. It is not very much of an exaggeration to say that the major industry of the city of Jerusalem in Jesus’s day was sacrificing animals to God.

The wealthy had the resources to make a splendid show of sacrificing a bull or an ox. They donated big sums to the Temple treasury. The humble of the earth donated less and were able to sacrifice a pigeon or dove (or even just a little flour). Everybody paid for the services of the High Priests on a scale that reflected the grandeur of the sacrifice you wanted to offer to God (and to show to the crowd).

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

But then, A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.

Jesus then draws attention to the woman whose gift to the Temple would ordinarily go unseen, unremarked, unheralded. And of all the gifts to the Temple that day, this is the gift that Jesus singles out for praise.

Earlier, I said that, sometimes at least, I am convinced that the only reason that the universe hasn’t come apart at the seams is that some contemplative, deep in the darkness of God, is holding it all together for us.

I think the same can be said for the generosity of the humble of the earth. Little acts of charity that go unseen, unremarked and certainly unheralded, are part of the glue that holds the world together.

Notre Dame, the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Paris, will one day be rebuilt. The forêt will be reconstructed with oak beams from trees felled by the monks of La Trappe. And, with the grace of God, this gift of sturdy oak will help hold up the Cathedral for another eight hundred years.

But the monks of La Trappe will tell you that it is really little gifts of faith, hope and love that hold up Notre Dame and, for that matter, all of Paris and the whole world beyond.

I don’t think we should fret that these little gifts go unseen, unremarked and unheralded. The beautiful church on the Île de la Cité in Paris has been held together for eight hundred years by such gifts.

I will be very grateful if, someday, I can attend mass at Notre Dame once again. I will say a prayer for you all, of course, but I will also remember the Trappist monks and their gift that is holding Notre Dame together and, for that matter, the universe itself.

- Jim Fredericks

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