Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as ginkgo, are the only living species in the division ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. This remarkable species is found in fossils dating back to the Permian period and was cultivated early in human history. In August of 1945, a cluster of beautiful ginkgo trees were in full leaf — majestic and glorious. As living fossils, they bridged 270 million years of history and in seconds were almost wiped out as the world seemed to turn upside down.
When the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, 75 years ago, the heat from the blast sheared off the bark and leaves from most vegetation, including the ginkgo trees, leaving all smoldering and burning. Little was left standing as the people and the landscape were decimated. The branches were instantaneously stripped away, leaving the outer bark completely scorched. In the midst of the mourning that followed this cataclysmic event, the trees were overlooked as one more casualty of human destruction. It seemed that there was little hope. But where there is life, there is hope.
In the midst of a parched, corroded landscape, new buds appeared on approximately 170 ginkgo trees in the spring of 1946. Despite their appearance and all that they had gone through, the trees were still alive on the inside. Somehow these trees had survived one of the most destructive events in the history of the world. Underneath all of the destruction, a tiny cylinder of “living cells” had survived and sent back new life into life. With time, the trees flourished. The ginkgo trees are often known as the “bearers of hope” by the Japanese people, for they carry within themselves the seeds of new life.
As Christians, we also carry the seeds of “living cells” within us. We are living witnesses, living cells of the new life of the church. We carry the seeds of hope within us — the spark of divine life as the beloved children of God. During this month, when we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, none stands taller than Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, too, as a bearer of hope. She bore the hope of the world, but her role did not end after giving birth to Jesus.
Mary was Jesus’ first teacher and because she enabled his Word to come alive in the world, Mary is considered the first disciple of Jesus. The church lovingly and respectfully refers to her as a “living catechism” and as the “mother and model of catechists.” She is a true bearer of hope for the new life that she held within herself. Our Blessed Mother teaches us that to live in hope is to be a seed of new life.
Hope is not wishful thinking, but a certainty that comes with living a life of faith. We have a reason to hope, as St. John Paul II reminds us: “Humanity is able to hope.
Indeed it must hope: the living and personal Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, is the ‘good news’ and the bearer of joy that the church announces each day, and to whom the church bears testimony before all people” (Christifideles laici, 7). Living in hope means that we can give a name to our hope — Jesus Christ who offers us comfort and strength. The name of hope is Jesus.
Like the ginkgo trees of Hiroshima, so much has been stripped bare during the pandemic and the unrest sweeping the world. The death toll from the pandemic continues to rise and injustice and abuse seem rampant. But we can also see the buds of new life emerge in the “living cells” of our faith expressed in acts of mercy, generosity, compassion and courageous witness.
Our roots are strong and deep and the living cells of our faith are still growing, in seen and unseen ways. The world today is desperately in need of hope, mercy and healing. All of this and more can be found in the person of Jesus Christ. How can you bear witness as a “living cell” to the hope of Jesus today?
Stanz is director of parish life and evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of “Start with Jesus: How Everyday Disciples Will Renew the Church” (Loyola Press).