IIC 135: The Tree of Catholic Personal Formation: An Integrative Model


What do the roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and apples of a tree have to do with your Catholic formation?  Find out how these, combined with sunlight, water, and soil, bring us an integrated understanding of personal formation grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person, drawing from Church documents and the sciences of the natural world.  By looking at an apple tree, we can understand our own formation and where we need to change and grow much better – and not just as solitary trees, but together, in community, in a forest.  Join me, Dr. Peter Malinoski, as we learn how to flourish in love and for love, as Catholics journeying together.


[00:00:00] If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? Oh, no, you’re not, you’re, I can just hear you saying you’re not going to go there, are you? You’re not, you’re not gonna, like, start doing some sort of dad thing here or this isn’t some sort of weird job interview question, because that actually is a job interview question. No, no, no, I’m actually kind of serious about this. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? I’m asking you to look at a reflection of yourself as a tree. You as a tree. God has done it. God has looked at a person as a tree. Now, this is from Matthew Sleeth, his 2019 book Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us. He quotes Scripture: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough, by a well whose branches run over the wall.” Matthew Sleeth says Joseph is a tree. Let’s talk about trees in the Bible. Let’s actually look at some statistics. Now, these will not be complicated. I gave you all the math in the last episode. Matthew Sleeth says that, “Other than God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing. There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis, in the first psalm, on the first page of the New Testament, and on the last page of Revelation. Every significant theological event in the Bible is marked by a tree, whether it is the fall, the flood, or the overthrow of Pharaoh, every major event in the Bible has a tree, branch, fruit, seed, or some part of a tree marking the spot.” That’s from page 17.

[00:01:59] I am Dr. Peter Malinoski, also known as Dr. Peter, and I am your host and guide in this Interior Integration for Catholics podcast. I am so glad to be with you. I’m a clinical psychologist, a trauma therapist, a podcaster, a writer, the co-founder and president of Souls and Hearts, but most of all, I am a beloved little son of God, a passionate Catholic who wants to help you to taste and see the height and depth and breadth and warmth and the light of the love of God, especially God your father, but also Mary, your mother, your spiritual parents, your primary parents. I am here to help you to embrace your identity as a beloved little child of God, a beloved little son or daughter of Mary. That is what this podcast is all about. That is what this episode is all about. And to bring that about, to live out our mission, I bring you new ways of understanding yourself, fresh conceptualizations informed by the best of human formation resources and psychology, and always grounded in the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church. And why? To help you flourish in love. That’s why. We are continuing our series on integrated personal formation, grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person and informed by the teachings of our Catholic faith.

[00:03:26] We started this series with Dr. Matthew Walz discussing his three models of human formation. First, he presented a causal model based on Aristotle’s four causes, then a model based on the four loves, and then a Christological model. And then in the last episode, episode 134, I offered you a mathematical model or lens. Now this is IIC episode number 135, it releases on April 1st, 2024, and it is titled The Tree of Catholic Personal Formation: An Integrative Model. This is a botanical model, an arboreal model, a tree model. And it is so good to be here. Thank you for your time and your attention. This podcast would not exist if it were not for you and for my other listeners and viewers. You make it all happen. This podcast is also coming out in video form so I can show you some pictures, draw you some figures, and show you even a bit of my own orchard. But you can still listen to it in audio just fine. I will describe all the visuals out loud. If you want to pick up the video, go to our Interior Integration for Catholics landing page at soulsandhearts.com/iic, or look for our Interior Integration for Catholics YouTube channel. Now, I know there’s a cost for you to take this in via video, more attention, dedicating time. So we are upping our production values, taking it much more seriously.

[00:04:54] So a new model for personal human formation. Trees. Trees are so present in the Bible. Tim Mackie and Jon Collins of The Bible Project podcast — Tim said that apart from God and humans, trees are the most frequently mentioned living thing in the Bible. More than all animals combined. On the third day of creation, trees came into being. It was the first thing, trees were, that was ever made fruitful. And that paralleled the sixth day of creation, when human beings were made who were also called to be fruitful. So why a tree? Why? Why am I interested in making this comparison to trees? Well, trees are simple models. Everyone is familiar to some degree with trees. Not everyone’s familiar with Aristotle’s four causes, you know, that’s a little different. But a tree is a living organic system, you know, it’s part of a larger ecosystem. So that’s another reason. And we need the entire system to be interrelated. We need to be balanced for health. Trees grow and mature — math, when I presented that, it really doesn’t. There’s a process of development in trees. Like for human persons, there’s an order of precedence, of things that happen with trees. And finally, trees grow really slowly, like human beings. The growth of trees is not visible day to day or week to week. I’m reminded of Mother Miriam of the Poor Clare Monastery in Kokomo, Indiana, where she said, “It just takes a long time to form a human being.”

[00:06:37] Carl Sagan said, “Deep down at the molecular heart of life, the trees and we are essentially identical.” He went on to say, “This oak tree and me, we’re made of the same stuff.” Now that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are so many parallels between humans and trees. Matthew Sleeth says that, “In many ways, trees are like Jesus. They give and they keep giving. They give life and beauty. They give shade and rest. They make and clean the air. They hold back erosion. They offer shelter, food, and protection.”

[00:07:17] Now, I chose an apple tree for this model because I’m very familiar with apple trees. And Henry David Thoreau said, “Surely the apple is the noblest of fruits.” I’ve grown apples for years, since 2011. Here is a picture of my orchard. I’ve been an amateur orchardist since 2011. Well, let’s describe this tree of formation, right. Let’s begin by sort of drawing it out. I’m going to just go ahead and draw this out for you. I’m not a stellar artist with this, and I’m going to be drawing as I present. So there’s some learning curve with this. But let’s go ahead and start with the running water. And we’re also going to start with the ground. As we kind of continue with this, we’re going to be starting with human formation. We’re drawing out this tree of formation as we begin to unfold this model. Human formation — let’s go back to the definition: Human formation is the lifelong process of natural development, aided by grace, by which a person integrates all aspects of his interior emotional, cognitive, relational, and bodily life, all of his natural faculties, in an ordered way, conformed with right reason and with natural law, so that he is freed from natural impediments to trust God as his beloved child, and to embrace God’s love. Then in return, because he possesses himself, he can flourish in loving God, neighbor, and himself with all his natural being in an ordered, intimate, personal, and mature way. This is based on my original definition in IIC episode 63, Human Formation: The Critical Missing Element. Now in the PPF6, the Program for Priestly Formation sixth edition, that document from the USCCB says that “through human formation, the foundation is laid upon which the other dimensions can be received and lived.” That’s from paragraph 116. And from Saint John Paul II himself in Pastores Dabo Vobis, paragraph 45, “Human formation, when it is carried out in the context of an anthropology which is open to the full truth regarding the human person, leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation.” So we’re already starting to see those connections.

[00:09:53] All right. So now I’m going to begin drawing this tree. I’m going to start by drawing the roots and the soil. The roots are the foundation for the whole tree. Matshona Dhliwayo said, “A small tree with strong roots will outlive a big tree with weak ones.” The roots are really important. They provide that stability. They provide that grounding. Genesis 1:11-13: “And God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit, in which is their seed, each according to its kind upon the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit, in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning, a third day.” So much about roots and soil do not meet the eye. Joyce Meyer said, “Consider a tree for a moment. As beautiful as trees are to look at, we don’t see what goes on underground as they grow roots. Trees must develop deep roots in order to grow strong and produce their beauty. But we don’t see the roots. We just see and enjoy the beauty. In much the same way, what goes on inside of us is like the roots of a tree.” Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis in their 2010 book Teeming with Microbes, revised edition said, “There’s a whole world of soil organisms that you cannot see unless you use sophisticated and expensive optics. Tiny microscopic organisms, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes appear.” One of the things I want to just do is try to draw some of these little tiny critters down here in the roots. I mean, this is not going to be to scale, of course, but all of these little nematodes, all these little protozoa, all the little fungi, all of the stuff that goes on in the roots, all the things we ask of and accordingly do for an apple tree, begin with the health of these complex communities in the soil.

[00:12:19] I’m going to turn from the soil to the water. The water and the soil represents the graces of God in the natural realm. This reminds me of the river in Revelations 22, Revelations 22:1-2: “Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of that tree were for the healing of the nations.” And so we see the connection between the river of the water of life nourishing the tree of life on the riverbanks so that that tree can bear fruit each month and an abundance of leaves.

[00:13:27] This brings us to the next aspect of the tree of formation, spiritual formation. So we’ve covered human formation. We’ve covered the roots, right. I’ve drawn the roots and we’ve talked about how those roots are nourished in the soil. The soil is our context. The soil is where we are planted. Now we’re going to talk about spiritual formation. From the Program of Priestly Formation, sixth edition, from the USCCB, the US Catholic bishops, they say, “For every Christian human formation leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation. Human formation continues in conjunction with and in coordination with the spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions of formation.” So we need to look at spiritual formation next. Spiritual formation, what is it. According to Ratio Fundamentalis: “Spiritual formation is directing at nourishing and sustaining communion with God and with our brothers and sisters in the friendship of Jesus, the good Shepherd, and with an attitude of docility to the Holy Spirit. This intimate relationship forms the heart of the seminarian, in that generous and sacrificial love that marks the beginning of pastoral charity.” The Program for Priestly Formation sixth edition goes on to say “spiritual formation needs to be integrated with the other three dimensions of formation — the human, the intellectual, and the pastoral. The necessary growth in the theological and moral virtues involves both nature and grace.” Nature and grace. Nature in the roots of the tree and the humus and the nutrients of the soil. In this model of the tree of personal formation, God’s grace is represented as both water and sunlight, right? Both water and sunlight.

[00:15:30] Now, we’ve discussed the water of grace in the natural realm. Grace is the running water for the tree in Psalm 1. The water that permeates the ground, taken up by the tree’s roots in a mediated way through the soil, brought to the tree by others, channeled by others. Those are other people in our lives, our circumstances, our situations, right. That’s the grace of God coming in the water, from the river, through the soil, to the roots. That’s all happening in the way that I’m conceptualizing this model, this botanical model, this arboreal model in the natural realm. But what about the spiritual realm? How can we conceptualize grace in the spiritual realm in our model of formation, right, this tree of formation? Well, grace in the spiritual realm is the light of God experienced directly in an immediate personal relationship. That’s what I’m looking at here. The grace of God in an unmediated way, directly to us. That is the light of God. And I’m going to go ahead and draw that in here as the sun. All right. We’re going to go ahead and get ourselves a sun, right. So here’s the sun up in the sky, the rays of the sun coming down. That is the grace of God, right, that is the grace of God. And we hear about that in Scripture in 1 John 1:5. He says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaimed to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

[00:17:19] And so, the waters of God’s grace and the light of God’s grace, these both come together in Psalm 36:9: “For with thee is the fountain of life…” That’s the water. “…in thy light do we see light.” The fountain of life, the waters of grace mediated through the soil. And the light — the direct connection, the immediate personal relationship between you as a tree and God. That’s what we’re getting at with this model. Which brings us to 2 Corinthians 4:6. Saint Paul tells us, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of the darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. That’s the connection. That’s the personal relationship with the light shining out of the darkness. And I’m representing that in our model of the tree by the sun. And which human person was the best living example of the deepest intimacy with God as light? Who was that? Who was she? Why, our Lady, our mother, mother Mary, of course, our Lady. And Saint Padre Pio prayed, “May the Most Holy Virgin, who was the first to practice the gospel perfectly and in all its severity, even before it was proclaimed, may she spur us on to follow closely in her footsteps.” Note how Padre Pio asserted that Mary practiced the gospel perfectly. And we are to follow her. We are to follow her. And what does that mean? What does the Scripture say in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, about Mary, about Our Lady? This is from Revelation 12:1: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Our mother Mary is clothed with the sun. She had that intimate of a relationship with God, with his grace, With more light than any of us, right. The light of the moon and stars was also there. But she was clothed with the sun. Clothed in that light. And when grace is missing, there is darkness. And we see this in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of our Lord, Luke 23:44: “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” Darkness enveloped the land. No sunlight.

[00:20:58] Let’s talk about the central importance of sunlight first, from a spiritual perspective and then from a natural perspective. From a spiritual perspective, the importance of light — God created light on the first day. Genesis 1:3-4: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

[00:21:19] And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.” God created the sun on the fourth day, Genesis 1:14-19: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. He made them, and the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.” Sunlight connects us to the heavens.

[00:22:41] Now let’s talk about this from a natural perspective, the importance of sunlight from a natural perspective. All life on Earth runs on sunlight. If there’s no more sun, there’s no more life. Sunlight brings together all the organic molecules that compose living bodies in a great creative process. All living organisms on the Earth depend on sunlight, and I’m using the sun as this image of God and our direct relationship with God, the relationship with light. Sunlight vitalizes the whole tree and the whole world through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is that co-creating process that happens between the sunlight and the tree, a co-creating process that happens in silence. Light nourishes the whole tree in silence. An author, Roman Payne says, “O, Sunlight! The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”

[00:23:43] And so we need leaves on our tree. A tree needs leaves to be able to receive the light of God’s grace directly, to take it in a tree needs leaves for photosynthesis. The leaves of the tree in this model of formation represent spiritual formation. The leaves of the tree receive the light of God and take that light in. Psalm 92:12-14: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar. In Lebanon they are planted in the house of the Lord. They flourish in the courts of our God. They bring forth fruit in old age. They are ever full of sap and green.” That green is the leaves of the palm tree. So Patrick Geddes is a Scottish biologist, geologist and sociologist of the late 19th and early 20th century, who said, “This is a green world with animals comparatively few and small, and dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live.”

[00:24:53] All right, so let’s start drawing that into our tree. Let’s begin to put in some leaves. Now I know we’ve only got the roots. We’ve got the river, we’ve got the ground. But we’re going to go ahead right to some leaves. Now we’re going to go ahead and put in some leaves into our tree. This is not again going to be perfect, but I’m going to start drawing just some little leaves here. Kind of the canopy of the tree with some of the individual little leaves, the little leaves that are the engines of photosynthesis for this tree. Now we receive the light of God, God himself, we receive Him Himself through many means, right? Primarily by prayer and the sacraments, the ordinary means of our sanctification, but also the elements of spiritual formation, as detailed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord, 2005 document, on page three, The Elements of Spiritual Formation. They are a living union with Christ, that is, in prayer, the spiritual formation built on the Word of God. So part of these leaves is also in prayer, the sacraments, reading of Scripture, spiritual formation based on the Liturgy, especially the sacraments, Eucharist, penance, Liturgy of the Hours, an incarnational spirituality of the presence, the bishops tell us, an awareness of sin, a spirituality for suffering, a Marian spirituality, love for the church, devotion to the Eucharist, and an ecumenical spirit. The leaves are the most delicate part of the tree, but in many ways the most powerful. The leaves, right, photosynthesis, they represent spiritual formation in our tree of formation.

[00:26:44] Now that brings us to intellectual formation. “Intellectual formation has its own characteristics, but it is also deeply connected with, and indeed can be seen as a necessary expression of both human and spiritual formation. It is a fundamental demand of the human intelligence by which one participates in the light of God’s mind, and seeks to acquire a wisdom which in turn opens to and is directed toward knowing and adhering to God.” That’s Pope Saint John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, paragraph 51. He’s talking about how deeply connected intellectual formation is with spiritual formation, with human formation. And the bishops say in PPF6, “Through intellectual formation he comes to a deeper understanding of the truth of the faith and of the human person, enriching his relationship with God, his understanding of himself, and his service to others.” So in our model of a tree, which part of the tree represents intellectual formation? What do you think? Which part of the tree represents intellectual formation? I submit that it is the trunk and the branches of the tree, the trunk and the branches of the tree. And we are going to draw those in to our document here. We’re going to draw that trunk. We’re going to draw some of that branching structure. The trunk of a tree provides strength. The trunk of the tree provides strength. As Blessed Pope Paul VI stated, “Liturgy is like a strong tree whose beauty is derived from the continuous renewal of its leaves, but whose strength comes from the old trunk with solid roots in the ground.”

[00:28:39] Solid intellectual formation provides strength to us, the strength derived from clarity of vision and purpose, the ability to recognize and avoid error. Now I’m going to introduce you to some passages from the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem, the decree on the apostolate of the laity was written in 1965. “Affected by original sin, men have frequently fallen into many errors concerning the true God, the nature of man, and the principles of the moral law.” We make a lot of mistakes. We make a lot of errors. Intellectual formation is so necessary to help us combat that. The trunk and the branches of our tree of formation provide the structure and the support. An unknown author said that “branches are the wings of trees that allow them to touch the sky.” And another unknown author: “The strength of the tree lies not just in its roots, but also in the flexibility and in resilience of its branches.” From Apostolicam Actuositatem: “From the beginning of their formation, the laity should gradually and prudently learn how to view, judge and do all things in the light of faith, as well as to develop and improve themselves along with others through doing, thereby entering into active service to the Church.”

[00:30:07] What does the trunk provide? What do the branches provide? The trunk and the branches provide the elevation to the tree, the vertical dimension. It lifts and spreads the leaves to the light. There’s vertical and horizontal aspects here. It’s not just theology and philosophy, not just the vertical aspects, but other branches of knowledge as well, the sort of horizontal aspects here. That brings the leaves into contact with the light. If you didn’t have the branches, if you didn’t have the trunk, the leaves would not be able to contact the light. That’s the spiritual formation, the direct contact with the light of God. In Apostolicam Actuositatem, it says, “In addition to spiritual formation, a solid doctrinal instruction in theology, ethics, and philosophy, adjusted to the differences of age, status, and natural talents, is required. The importance of general culture, along with practical and technical formation, should also be kept in mind.” Right, so for us laypeople especially, there’s so much more that we also need to know besides philosophy, besides theology, in our intellectual formation, all these different branches that hold up different sections of leaves to the light in the relationship with God and our spiritual formation. The other thing that the branches and the trunk do is that they keep the leaves from being eaten by goats. It’s very important. Leaves eaten by goats no longer photosynthesize.

[00:31:42] All right. So let’s see how the branches in the trunk integrate with other parts of the tree. In the Program for Priestly Formation, sixth edition, it says “there is a reciprocal relationship between spiritual and intellectual formation…” Between the leaves and the branches and the trunk. “…The intellectual life nourishes the spiritual life, but the spiritual also opens up vistas of understanding in accordance with the classical adage credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand). Intellectual formation is integral to what it means to be human.” Right, all of these parts of the tree need each other. They’re in one system. The process of photosynthesis from the leaves of the tree builds up the trunk and the branches with nourishment, and then also we have the water coming in from the roots, right? So we have the grace of God directly in spiritual formation, we have the water of grace of God through the natural formation coming in through the soil, with the nutrients coming in from that soil, from the humus in the soil. Right. And that’s all coming together. Intellectual formation is nourished and supported by both spiritual formation and human formation. Human formation, those roots also need the photosynthesis from the leaves, and also needs the trunk and the branches to hold those leaves up. John in chapter 15:5 has our Lord say,”I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him. He it is that bears much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Fritjof Capra in his book, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, this was 1997, said, “By blending water and minerals from below with sunlight and CO2 from above, green plants link the earth to the sky. We tend to believe that plants grow out of the soil, but in fact most of their substance comes from the air. The bulk of the cellulose and other organic compounds produced through photosynthesis consist of heavy carbon and oxygen atoms, which plants take directly from the air in the form of CO2. Thus, the weight of a wooden log comes almost entirely from the air when we burn a log in the fireplace. Oxygen and carbon combine once more into CO2, and in the light and heat of the fire, we recover part of the solar energy that went into making the wood.” So, the leaves. The roots. The sun. The water and the nutrients all come together to make the branches and the trunk.

[00:34:26] Let’s go on to pastoral formation. And what do we know about pastoral formation? We’ve been talking about this for a couple of episodes now. “All four dimensions of formation are interwoven and go forward concurrently. Still, in a certain sense, pastoral formation is the culmination of the entire formation process.” That’s from PPF6 page 366, or paragraph 366. The culmination of the entire formation process. So what would that mean for our apple tree? What would represent the culmination of the entire formation process? What happens at the end? Well, I’m going to submit to you that it is the fruit of the tree. It is the fruit of the tree that, the apples on the apple tree. So let’s go ahead and draw in some of those apples. We’re just going to put some of those apples right here in our tree. This represents our spiritual formation, right? Hanging from those branches or the twigs on the branches, supported by the trunk, powered by the photosynthesis of the leaves. The fruit of the tree, the apples of the tree — this is what we can share with others. It does not harm the tree to give the apples, right? The apples are shareable with others as a gift. The apples nourish others. Like I said, it does not diminish the tree to give the fruit — no harm comes to the tree. The PPF6 says “Clearly, pastoral formation not only connects with the other three dimensions of priestly formation, but in itself provides a goal that integrates the other dimensions. Human formation enables priests to be bridges to communicate Jesus Christ, a pastoral function. Spiritual formation enables priests to persevere and gives depth to their ministry. Intellectual formation provides criteria and content to ensure that pastoral efforts are directed correctly, properly, and effectively.” Fruit — the apple needs both the light and photosynthesis from the leaves and spiritual formation. That’s all there. And then nutrients in the water from the roots. That’s the human formation and the support from the branches. That’s the intellectual formation. The PPF6 says, “Through pastoral formation, the seminarian learns how to express the other three in pastoral charity, the overall goal of priestly formation.”

[00:37:01] And this reminds me of Matthew 7:16-20: “You will know them by their fruits.” This is our Lord speaking. “Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? So every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” The question is not whether you will bear fruit. That’s what fruit-bearing trees do. They bear fruit. You will bear fruit. The question is, what kind of fruit will you bear? Our Lord again, Matthew 12:33, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good; or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” 20th century American psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “The test of a man is: does he bear apples? Does he bear fruit?” And again back to John 15:16-17: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you: to love one another.” Ultimately that fruit should be love.

[00:38:37] The early 20th-century Lebanese-American poet and author Khalil Gibran said, “Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.” And Fr. Jacques Philippe, in the footnote on page 120 of his book Interior Freedom, said “At the psychological and spiritual level, man’s deepest need is the need for love: the need to love and the need to be loved. Two other basic needs are necessarily linked to the need for love and communion: the need for truth (in order to love, we need to know);” — there’s that intellectual formation — “and the need for identity (in order to love, we need to be).” So, parents. Your children will eat of the fruit of your tree. When they’re little, they have to in order to survive. And Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German writer in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” Extended family members, your role is also very important in the formation of children. Teachers, your students will eat of your fruit. You can’t hide who you are behind a role. Coaches, therapists, your formation, your human formation, your spiritual formation, your intellectual formation, your pastoral formation, these are all going to have a huge impact because trees don’t live on their own.

[00:40:20] I’m just going to step back to parents for a minute. This fruit, this fruit has seeds. The fruit surrounds the seed, the seed that grows new trees, and this was specifically stated and restated in Genesis 1:11: “And God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit, in which is their seed, each according to its kind upon the earth.” This is where we get outwardly focused, in the fruit again, just like we got outwardly focused with the applied mathematics in that mathematical model I offered you in the last episode. This is another way of looking at it, the seeds of the fruit. And there’s a Welsh proverb that goes like this: “A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.” Robert Schuller: “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.”

[00:41:31] Let’s talk a little bit about growth. One of the reasons why I love this model of a tree to represent formation is that there’s an order of precedence. What’s the first thing that a tree develops when it’s growing from a seed? Well, it actually develops the roots first, right. The first thing that happens is that roots go from the seed down into the soil. Human formation is primary in the earliest years. We go from seed to root to leaves. If you look at pictures, like this one, of little apple seedlings, there’s not a lot of branch structure. There’s nothing you could really call a trunk. There’s maybe like this little stem. But the first thing is not the branches. It’s not the intellectual formation. The first thing are the roots, the human formation, but also, also the leaves. You will see these little seedlings with two leaves and roots started, right.

[00:42:29] And baptism — baptism introduces us into the mystical Body of Christ, opening to the leaves. Basically roots and leaves. The intellectual faculties are not yet developed in an infant, right? They’re not reached by the age of reason. Branches can’t bear fruit right away, right. But we need the leaves right away. We need to start that process of photosynthesis right away. And in that 1965 Vatican II document, Apostolicam Actuositatem, it reads, “In the family, parents have the task of training their children from childhood on to recognize God’s love for all men. By example especially they should teach them little by little to be solicitous for the material and spiritual needs of their neighbor. The whole family in its common life, then, should be a sort of apprenticeship for the apostolate.” That’s that spiritual formation happening within this natural context, happening alongside this human formation. So parents, your children, they’re going to eat your fruit, they rely on you for life. And if you go away, if you abandon the family, like Sally’s father did in the story I told you in the last episode, episode 134, then they will eat the bitter fruit of that abandonment.

[00:43:47] So another thing about growth.

[00:43:48] Growth is slow. Moliere, the French poet, the actor, the playwright of the 17th century, said that “Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” One final thing. I remember being in high school and traveling for a forensics competition to another school. And there being this, this poster up in a classroom that said, “Grow where you are planted.” That there will be provided where you are planted, what you need in God’s providence.

[00:44:20] Let’s talk about the care of trees. And let’s start with Confucius. Confucius said, “Cultivate the root; the leaves and branches will take care of themselves.” And again back to that order of precedence, the human formation, the importance of the roots. 500 years later, Jesus said in Luke 13:6-9: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vine dresser, ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him. ‘Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it, and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good. But if not, you can cut it down.'” So here we see the human agency. A man is manuring the soil, building up the soil, contributing to the humus. This is not direct intervention from God.

[00:45:15] God loves to work in these mediated ways through ourselves and other people to impact lives. Souls and Hearts fertilizes the soil in human formation. This podcast, the Resilient Catholics Community, the Interior Therapist Community, all of that is about your human formation, also somewhat about your intellectual formation, but mostly about your human formation. And Matthew Sleeth said, “Long before sustainable agriculture became popular, God set up guidelines for the good of the land and the people. For example, a newly planted tree was not to be harvested for the first three years. (That’s in Leviticus 19, verse 23.) This is still sound agricultural advice today. Further, fruit trees were not to be beaten twice (Deuteronomy chapter 24, verse 20), meaning that when the Hebrew people were harvesting almonds, olives and dates, they were to leave some fruit and nuts behind to be gleaned by the birds and the poor. Moreover, every seven years, trees were not to be harvested at all. (That’s from Leviticus 25, verses 3 to 4.)”

[00:46:19] Trees and healing. Let’s talk about how trees heal. T. Harv Eker wrote that, “In every forest, on every farm, in every orchard on earth, it’s what’s under the ground that creates what’s above the ground. That’s why placing your attention on the fruits that you have already grown is futile. You cannot change the fruits that are already hanging on the tree. You can, however, change tomorrow’s fruits. But to do so, you will have to dig below the ground and strengthen the roots.”

[00:46:49] The care of the tree includes the roots. So in our human formation, we’re conforming ourselves to right reason and to natural law, right. We’re also doing that intellectual formation, but we’re also conforming ourselves there to what we have received, as revealed in our church from our God. And spiritual formation, conforming ourselves to the sun, to taking in the sun, understanding that everything comes from God — and all of that to be able to bear the fruit, to be able to give back, to be able to accept the honor of being able to love, right, to become like God in loving. This is so critically important. This is what we need to be working on in our lives. And these models that I’m offering are to help you take what the church has given us, and begin to more and more take it inside you, not just intellectually in your intellectual formation — that’s part of it — not just in your human formation, but also in your spiritual formation so that you can bear fruit. All right. Let’s talk a little bit about dysfunctions within the trees of formation. Let’s talk about what can go wrong in the roots in the soil. Right. Again, this is human formation. Well, there can be nutritional deficiencies, things that are missing in the soil food web. This is sort of what happens when we don’t care for our bodies.

[00:48:16] The physical aspects exercise, health care, nutrition, when we’re not caring for our relationships in the natural realm, if we have a lack of good natural relationships, a lack of self-knowledge, a lack of self-possession, these things are like things that are missing in the soil. I had in my orchard a lack of calcium in the soil, which caused bitter pit in the apples, and those apples dropped. They dropped early. The fruit was not getting something that it needed from the soil. It’s an example of how if there’s something wrong with the human formation, the fruit of your pastoral work, your pastoral formation, will be affected. There can also be toxins in the soil, right. For example, the too much shame, right. A sense of being unloved and unlovable can be harmful to the roots of our formation tree. Like black walnut trees secrete juglone, I think that’s how it’s said, which is a toxic substance that is taken up by the roots of other trees nearby, and it causes leaves on the tree to twist, wilt and die. Right, I think of that as like shame — juglone in the soil being taken up, being absorbed by the the roots of an apple tree, leading the tree to suffer and possibly even leading the tree to die. Now, another thing that can happen is that pigs eat roots, right? You’ve heard that saying, “root hog or die.” Pigs have actually been used for deforestation efforts in Japan and other places.

[00:49:46] They can clear the land of trees because they go down, they eat the roots. And the trees are cut off and they fall, right. Remember, pigs in the Scripture are a habitat of the devil, right, the legion of demons that Jesus cast out of the demoniac, the Gerasene demoniac in Matthew 8. It’s also told in Luke 8. They wanted to go to the pigs as a new home, right. They’re condemned in in the Old Testament as uneatable, right. And I see this as like the effect of abuse and neglect on the roots of apple trees, right. The roots torn up and eaten. This is so destabilizing to children, destabilizing adults too, when they’re abused, when they’re neglected. All right. So let’s talk about what can go wrong with leaves, right. We’re talking in the realm of spiritual formation now. And I want to discuss apple scab. Mhm. That’s what happens with apple scab. And like I said I’m very familiar with this. The leaves become compromised and the leaves therefore cannot photosynthesize, right. There is no capacity then for that leaf to enter into relationship with the light. And so let’s think about a senior citizen here as an example who has experienced losses, deaths of family members, loss of some hearing, loss of mobility. Bitterness is coming in, loss of independence, living in assisted living, moving away from prayer now, from the sacraments.

[00:51:14] Drifting along, right. That one’s leaves are curling up with apple scab. Those leaves are dropping from the tree. We’ve got this spiritual deformation happening. If that goes on long enough, it can kill the tree. Let’s talk about the trunk and the branches now. This is the problems that can happen in intellectual formation. And now I want to talk about fire blight. I’ve had trees die from fire blight as well. And this is from the University of Minnesota article Fire Blight — Quick Facts. “In Minnesota, fire blight is often seen on apple, crabapple, and mountain ash trees. Fire blight is a disease that can kill blossoms and shoots and cause dieback of branches from cankers. Severe fire blight can cause trees to die young. Leaves and shoots wilt and bend downward, forming the shape of a hook. Trees with multiple infected shoots may appear scorched as by fire. Preventing infections by planting resistant varieties is important and to manage the fire blight, prune trees to remove infected branches before the disease kills the tree.” We need to prune ourselves, right? We allow ourselves to be misled — this is happening in the realm of intellectual formation. And we hear this from Saint Paul in his second letter to Timothy, 4:3-4: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and they will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”

[00:52:45] That wandering into myths, that heaping up of false teachers, itching ears, that has a scorching effect on the branch structure, like fireblight. I’ve lost so many trees to fire blight in my orchard, right. The branches, they go, the leaves go, you know, the whole thing begins to shut down. Sometimes calls for radical surgery. Now I want to also tell a story of the new college student here in the intellectual realm, right, going off to college for the first time, right, to a state school. And I want to tell you about the roundheaded borer, right. The roundheaded borer is a beetle which, in its larva form, seeks out trees that are already compromised and ailing. When the roundheaded borer discovers a sick tree, it gnaws through the outer layer of the bark, often at the trunk, and lays eggs. When those eggs hatch the roundheaded wood borer larvae tunnel into the wood, weakening the trunk, right. So our college student goes off, imbibes all kinds of secular philosophies, distances herself from the faith, gets into some Marxism which is repackaged in some trendy progressivism. And what happens with this — because these roundheaded tree borers, these wood borers, they’re at the trunk of the tree, right at the base, often of trees that are adolescent, that are relatively young, those trees can get snapped off at the base. You get some straight line winds — crack.

[00:54:19] They’re broken. They’re down on the ground. I just want to give you this little quote from Matthew Sleeth, who said, “More recently, George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis — three of the most beloved and influential Christian fiction writers of all time — they championed trees. Whether it is MacDonald’s picture of heaven in At the Back of the North Wind, Tolkien’s tree haven Lothlorien in Middle Earth, or the way trees respond when Aslan is on the move in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, each author paints a picture of shalom among the trees. The good guys live under, in and around trees. They value, protect, and even talk to trees. In contrast, the bad guys such as Lewis’ Tash and Tolkien’s Sauron, are clear-cutters of trees — even talking trees!” All right. So let’s talk about the fruit, the pastoral formation. And now I want to talk with you about the evils of plum curculio. Plum curculio. These are 5 to 6 millimeter long, grayish brown weevils. And they are the absolute worst problem that I’ve ever faced in raising apples in Indiana. Yeah, they are the Achilles heel of organic orcharding. Can lead to complete loss of crops. Michael Phillips says that, “All told, high curculio populations left unchecked equal unequivocal disaster.” So these are the bugs, all kinds of insects can come in and harm the fruits, can bore into the fruit.

[00:55:50] And here I am among some of our apple trees. You can hear the pigs in the background. I can see the buds are in the green stage. We’ll soon have some apple blossoms. These are, in this section of the orchard, our Enterprise apples. Very disease-resistant, been good trees for us. But yeah, we’re not far from the blossoms here in Indiana.

[00:56:46] Right. So I want to talk a little bit about broader systems and the tree of formation. So systems thinking is very much a part of Souls and Hearts. Definition of a system: a group of interacting interdependent parts that form a complex whole. The key idea of a system is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each person is a system. Each tree is a system. So trees live in ecosystems. They live in these broader systems, just like human beings. Each one of us lives in a broader system. So we’re looking at the forest as well as the trees. And this is where Bill Mollison and his writings on permaculture, you know, comes into play. “Permaculture is an approach to land management and settlement design that adopts arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems. It includes a set of design principles derived using whole systems thinking. It applies these principles in fields such as regenerative agriculture, town planning, rewilding and community resilience. The term was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who formulated the concept in opposition to modern industrialized methods, instead adopting a more traditional or natural approach to agriculture.” Right, an approach to agriculture that respects all of the underlying reality, the richness of these processes that we’ve been talking about in the soil, the soil food web, the ways that in the design of nature, the integrated parts of the system help each other, nourish each other.

[00:58:22] There’s an old saying that nobody fertilized an old-growth forest, yet the soil can be rich ten, twelve, fifteen, even twenty-five feet down, right. With no fertilizers being applied by heavy industrial agricultural equipment. On my farm, which we call Nourishing Acres, our five acres, now we use some permaculture principles. We don’t follow, you know, Bill Mollison to a T, but we consider the integration of these things. And that’s a way of thinking about ourselves, not in this sort of isolated, individualistic way, but as part of systems. So let me, let me, let me talk a little bit about nurse trees, right. And this is a definition of nurse trees. This is something I learned about through Bill Mollison, through permaculture. “A nurse tree is a larger, faster growing tree that shelters a smaller, slower growing tree or plant. The nurse tree can provide shade, shelter from wind, and protection from animals that would feed on the smaller plant and significant changes in temperature. Fallen leaves from the nurse tree fertilize the ground underneath, creating nutrient rich soil for the saplings and vegetation beneath.” So these nurse trees, they filter the light. They block the wind. They sacrifice themselves for the young tree. Now here’s something that I find just absolutely fascinating. Trees can feed each other through root systems. There’s a Scientific American article by Stephanie Pappas called Do Trees Really Support Each Other Through a Network of Fungi? And she says, “Filaments of fungi intertwine with the tips of tree roots to form underground networks that seem to benefit both organisms.

[01:00:10] The filaments, called hyphae, break down minerals in the soil that the trees can then take into their roots, and the fungi get a steady supply of sugar from the trees. Research has hinted that these connections — known as mycorrhizal networks — can extend between trees, letting one tree transfer resources below ground to another. Some scientists even argue that trees are cooperating, with older trees passing resources to seedlings and nurturing them as a parent might.” What this means is that even stumps can be revived. We’ve seen that in nature. Isaiah 11:1: “A stump shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” People can help each other in human ways. Bob Ross, he said, “You know me, I think there ought to be a big old tree right there. Sprout. And let’s give them a friend. Everybody needs a friend.” So. Bob Ross, here’s to you. I’m going to draw in another tree in our diagram to kind of represent that, you know, that this tree here is not on its own, that it’s part of a system. There’s another tree here, maybe a different kind of tree, and maybe this one will be a pear tree, little pears.

[01:01:27] And these trees are in relationship to each other. So thank you Bob Ross for that. And Mehmet Murat Ildan said, “Be as useful as a tree! Give life to others; be shelter to everyone; grant fruits to all! Be good like a tree!” And we’ll talk about the rejuvenation of trees now. The book of Job 14:7-9: “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease, though its root grow old in the earth and its stump die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.” “A German forester recently recounted finding buried wood from a stump, the remnant of a tree cut down centuries before. The wood still had living chlorophyll present. It was getting the chlorophyll through webs of interconnecting fungal growths terminating at living trees. It seems that trees will even share sap and chlorophyll with fallen neighbors. Whether through seed, scion, stump, or fence post, trees tenaciously cling to life. Moreover, trees challenge the human model of what is alive and what is dead. As Job exclaimed, there is hope for a tree, even if it is cut down.” Matthew Sleeth: “And trees can come back to life after being chopped down. So can humans who embrace the tree of life and the promises of God’s living Word.”

[01:02:51] And there are a lot of fallen trees in the world, a lot of fallen trees, a lot of reasons where people’s formation has gotten derailed, where they’ve been chopped down, where they’ve been uprooted due to all kinds of reasons, right. Sometimes I think of the world looking like Sauron’s front yard, right. So that’s why we need saints. We need saints. We need trees with roots and fruits. And now I’m going to ask you, what does your tree need? Right, what do you need in your formation? Which of these areas might be the weakest of you? Human formation, intellectual formation, spiritual formation, or pastoral formation? For many, many people, it’s human formation. That’s what we’re finding. That’s why Souls and Hearts exists. I think there are so many resources in our church today of spiritual formation, so many excellent resources for intellectual formation, for pastoral formation. I think the neglected one for so many people is human formation. And that’s what we specifically focus on — those roots, those roots that ground us in the soil. Each person needs to think about how can they customize a plan for themselves and their own formation. This is in the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem: “This plan for the spiritual life of the laity should take its particular character from their married or family state, or their single or widowed state, from their state of health, from their professional and social activity.

[01:04:34] The formation for the apostolate presupposes a certain human and well-rounded formation adapted to the natural abilities and conditions of each lay person. Well-informed about the modern world, the lay person should be a member of his own community and adjusted to its culture.” Which means these programs need to be customized to you. To you. Your formation plan should be customized to you. It shouldn’t be a one size fits all thing. So how do we do this? How do we understand what we need in our own formation? Human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation, pastoral formation. There are natural ways to go about this. There are spiritual ways to go about this. One spiritual way is to take it to prayer and to ask our Lord. To really enter into, not only what do I need to be working on in my formation, dear Lord, but how do you want me to do it? What are the means that you want me to be using? In the natural realm, you can ask those people who know you. You can ask them to listen to this episode. You can discuss it. Husbands and wives, I love it when I hear that husbands and wives are listening to these episodes and discussing amongst themselves. It takes courage, humility, and love. But if you seek, you will find. Well, I want to thank you for staying with us.

[01:05:56] This went on quite a bit longer than I imagined. I’m going to ask for reviews. I want to hear your voices. Leave me a review on Apple Podcasts, if you listen to the audio version of this, leave me a review or a comment on our YouTube channel, if you’re watching this, like it. Subscribe. If you’re catching this on video, if you leave me a comment in YouTube, I will read it and I will probably respond, at least until there are too many and there have not been too many. I want to thank Pat Molyneux of the Human Formation Coalition. He is actually funding the transcripts to be written up of these episodes on personal formation. Now we focus on human formation here at Souls and Hearts, with some emphasis also on intellectual formation. We do that in community. If you’re a Catholic who holds what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches is true, and you’re inspired to work on your own human formation, but not alone, not as a lone wolf, but in a community of other Catholics journeying together on a pilgrimage to flourishing and love — then check out the Resilient Catholics Community at soulsandhearts.com/rcc. Check out all our resources on our resource page at soulsandhearts.com/toc. Stands for Table of Contents. We’ve got them all there, alphabetically ordered, to help you with your human formation,

[01:07:16] to help you with your intellectual formation. You’re welcome to give me a call. Conversation hours are every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. That’s on my cell phone (317) 567-9594. You can let me know what you think of this model, this model of the tree. You can email me at crisis@soulsandhearts.com, but I can take weeks to respond to emails. It takes me a long time, given the volume of emails that I get. Over the next several episodes, we’re going to be bringing in experts in spiritual formation, intellectual formation, and pastoral formation. We’re going to be bringing in all kinds of Catholics who are providing formation in various ways, through various organizations, to help you learn more about different options that are out there, options that might be really suited for you. That’s part of what I am called to, I think, with this podcast in the next several episodes. I’m meeting with Father Boniface Hicks in our next episode, episode 136. Please pray for us. Our whole endeavor runs on prayer. We cannot do what we do without so much prayer. So I beg you, please pray for us at Souls and Hearts. We’re praying for you. And with that, we will wrap this by invoking our patroness and our patrons. Our Lady, our Mother, Untier of Knots. Pray for us. Saint John the Baptist. Pray for us.

Special thanks to the Human Formation Coalition, who provided the support to make this transcript available.

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