In the early summer of 1975, one of my cousins decided that he wanted to try his hand at gardening. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “James.” At the time, James and I were both 18 years old. I knew quite a bit about gardening because I had been in charge of taking care of our large family garden for the previous five years.
James was a “city boy” who knew nothing about gardening. He planted a small garden that consisted of a few tomato plants and some short rows of lettuce, corn, and sweet peas. About a month after James planted his garden, I stopped by to see him and noticed that his garden was overrun by weeds. I told him that the garden was almost beyond the point of no return.
When he asked what I meant, I told him that if he didn’t immediately get rid of all the weeds, they would completely overwhelm and kill off his plants. At that point, he surprised me with this question: “I didn’t plant any weeds, so where did they come from?”
I responded by telling him that the seeds for the weeds had been spread throughout his garden by the wind. I explained to him that because there were weeds almost everywhere — on the sides of roads, in ditches, around buildings, in most yards — there were always small seeds being produced, which were picked up by the wind and carried to other areas.
My cousin never got around to pulling the weeds. As a result, his garden didn’t produce any vegetables. I knew when we had our initial conversation that he would never take the time to pull the weeds or do the work that was necessary to keep additional weeds from growing. He was busy with other things that were more important to him and he didn’t have the time to tend to his garden.
If you’ve ever had a garden, you know that weeds grow faster and are much more pervasive than vegetable plants. If neglected, the weeds quickly and aggressively multiply until they crowd out and suffocate the vegetable plants.
Just as we must be vigilant about keeping weeds out of our gardens, we must also constantly work at eradicating sinful thoughts and behavior. Like weeds, sinful thoughts and behavior can quickly and aggressively crowd out and suffocate virtuous thoughts and actions.
Sinful thoughts and long-established behavioral habits can have deep roots, which are impossible to eliminate without divine assistance. In order to get to the deep, deep roots of sinful behavior, there must be a spiritual component that includes prayer and the sacraments. As the best gardens are tended to daily, the gardens of our souls need to also be tended to daily. The work of tending to the gardens of our souls requires that we engage in daily prayer and confess our sins on a regular basis.
We can easily see the destruction that is caused by having too many weeds in our gardens, but we often fail to recognize the true extent of the damage that is caused by our sinful thoughts and actions.
For most of us, our worst faults are often completely hidden from us. Although the people who know us best can usually see our faults, we fail to see our own faults because our pride has completely blinded us to them. Unfortunately, the people who know and love us the most usually give up on trying to remind us of what our faults are because they know from past experience that we react with anger and outrage when they point out our faults.
When we make a good confession, we are forced to probe, acknowledge, and humbly admit that we have sinful faults that need to be corrected. When we properly prepare for confession by performing a thorough examination of conscience, we are able to sift through the gardens of our souls to determine what thoughts and behaviors need to be eradicated.
As Catholics, we know that Jesus gave His priests the power to forgive sins:
“After saying this [‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’], He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” John 20:22-23.
It’s not enough though to simply confess our sins. For true forgiveness and healing, we need absolution, something that can only be given to us by a Catholic priest. Consider the power a priest is able to exercise when he recites the prayer of absolution:
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The Lenten season is the perfect time to reflect on and evaluate the sinful thoughts and behaviors that have hindered our progress toward holiness. It’s also a good time to work out a plan for the eradication of our sinful thoughts and behaviors. Every such plan needs to start with a good confession and a renewed commitment to daily prayer and sacrifice.
Have you been to confession this Lenten season? If not, there’s not much time left. But remember, it’s only the beginning of a renewal process that is needed to eradicate the sinful thoughts and behaviors that hold you back from true holiness and perfection.