I enjoy running on a paved trail near my home that meanders along a beautiful river. There are granite markers placed along the path every quarter mile, reminding me how far I’ve run and how many miles I have yet to go. I’m so familiar with the trail that I know each mile marker by the terrain surrounding it. One is just around the corner after a small hill. Another is at the end of a bridge. Yet there is one particular maker, at the one-and-a quarter mile point, that I often miss. It sits under a nondescript tree and is hidden by tall grass.

On a cool morning in early fall, I rounded a corner of the trail and gasped in delight as I caught sight of the tree that shaded the marker I usually fail to notice. It was ablaze with orange, crimson and gold leaves. Standing alone in its glory, it was the most beautiful tree in the woods that lined the trail.

As I passed the tree, I turned to admire its beauty until it was out of sight. My feet pounded the pavement in rhythm with the repeated Hail Marys of the rosary I always pray when I run. I thought of the tree and knew that God was sending me a message, but what could it be?

I recalled a science class long ago where I learned that the gorgeous colors in the leaves are always there. We just can’t see them when they are hidden by the green chlorophyll that the tree produces during spring and summer. As the days get shorter and cooler, the process of photosynthesis slows down and the chlorophyll disappears from the leaves, showing their true colors.

Isn’t it ironic that my lone tree showed its breathtaking beauty just before its leaves are about to die? It will be spectacular for only a few days or weeks before returning to its lowly status as another non-descript tree. Yet I will always know that this particular tree has the potential to be the most beautiful on the trail.

Now I understand the meaning of the tree. We show our true colors, the virtues that God has given us, when we die to ourselves. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

By dying to self in imitation of Christ, we reflect his glory. People who see us acting in a Christ-like manner will remember, even when we return to being our ordinary selves. The more we die to self, the more we show our true colors.

So as you admire the brilliant colors of the fall leaves this season, recall the words of St. Paul, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).

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