The Tree

There is a small but very important church in Rome that is between the Cathedral of St. John Lateran and the Coliseum called San Clemente.  You could walk right pass it if you are not observant and I almost did. But thanks be to God, we decided to enter a nondescript door of ‘yet another church’. When you enter and look up at the apse you will see one of the most beautiful, well known and spiritually power mosaics in all Christendom – The Tree of Life.

What stands out is that from the Crucifix in the center of the mosaic vines spread across the whole apse – thus the name of this mosaic, the Tree of Life.  But what struck me most (besides the beauty) was that intermingled amongst the vine are scenes of normal life.  Animals, plants, men and women doing normal daily chores and other scenes.  There is a serenity to these scenes as if to say that life lived attached to Christ brings a peace and joy.  And so it does.

Normally our first readings are taken from the Old Testament but not so now.  In the glow of the Easter Victory Holy Mother Church relates to us the nascent Church from the Acts of the Apostles.  We see the blossoming of the Church in her first years.  The success of the members because they were full of the Holy Spirit – they lived totally attached to the Tree of Life – Christ.

In today’s first reading we see a contrast between living life among the vine and not. We see power hungry leaders trying their best by coercion to control their situations.  I take from this reading an angst and desperation that things for these leaders are not as they want it and they have no control.  Whereas the disciples who are living in threatening times for their ministry and their lives quietly follow the angel’s directions and seemingly throw caution to the wind with that peace so well depicted at San Clemente.

Life for them was dangerous and yet they understood what was important – ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.[1] And that eternal life is through this vine – through Christ – whom the Father raises to heaven and along with Him those attached to the vine. Which for me was the most assuring part of this great mosaic; for at the top of the mosaic we see the hand of God grasping the crucifix – pulling it up and the vine and its fruit along with it.

Brothers and sisters, lets strive to be part of this beautiful mosaic, let’s never be separated from the vine that grows from the tree of life.  Allow the Holy Spirit to be within us as the first members of the Church show us in the Acts of Apostles; not only will we see great things happen but we will live our lives with the peace so beautifully depicted at this almost unnoticed church in Rome.


[1] Jn 3:16


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