A tree is a wonderful reminder that everything is connected; everything depends on everything else. The tree points down to the earth and it reaches up towards the sky, and its branches reach out to north, south, east and west. It is a symbol, but not just a symbol because, like a sacrament, it embodies what it symbolises. Its roots reach down into the soil where fungi, beetles, roundworms, earthworms, all sorts of bacteria and other ‘creepy crawlies’ break down the dead matter into nutrients that the tree needs. It draws them up through the trunk into the leaves which do something that I cannot do – neither can Joe Biden, the bishop nor even the Pope, it makes food! It takes carbon dioxide from the air – that stuff of which an excess can cause climate change – and sends out the oxygen we all need to live… you know that is called photosynthesis. Food of course attracts organisms that need food.
The commonest organisms that come to feed on the tree are insects of all sorts, and they lay their eggs on it as well. The eggs develop into larvae - caterpillars we usually call them - and they grow into adult insects that fly off to do their pollinating work or some of the other important functions that they carry out all around the neighbourhood. Not all the insects reach adulthood, of course, because a lot of them are eaten as caterpillars by birds, such as robins or blue tits, for example. This is such a rich source of food that some birds like whitethroats or willow warblers come all the way from Africa to feed on it . Even birds that usually eat seeds nourish their young with protein-rich insects, on which their fledglings thrive. When these young birds mature they travel to Africa, so it is wonderful to think that this tree has an effect on the ecosystems of the African savannah with its giraffes and zebras as well as the rainforests with their monkeys and elephants. Everything is connected! In winter when northern Europe is frozen birds like redwings and siskins come south to feed on the fruits of Irish trees. When spring comes they go back north so that this tree helps support life in the land of the reindeer. Everything is connected and depends on everything else. Wonderful!
But let me tell you something even more amazing. Pope Francis says – and nobody has contradicted him – he says that every creature is the object of the Father’s tenderness. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and even in its few seconds of existence… think of that caterpillar just before it is gobbled up by a robin … God enfolds it with his affection.