Sunday, July 10, 2011


If you haven't yet heard about this big, bad weed, check it out...and keep your distance!

I'll be away this week serving as chaplain at Camp Guggenheim (our diocesan summer camp). Please keep me, the campers, and the staff in your prayers!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Have you ever heard of Giant Hogweed?
Before this week, I hadn’t either.
From the pictures,
it looks quite a lot like Queen Anne’s Lace…
…except a whole lot bigger:
growing as much as fourteen feet tall,
with flowers up to two and a half feet wide.

Hogweed is what you’d call an “invasive species.”
It’s native to the other side of the planet,
but is now becoming established in the U.S. Northeast.
How did it get here?
Because someone thought it looked real pretty.
Why should we care?
Not only because this plant is spreading rapidly,
but because this plant is rather dangerous.
You see, Giant Hogweed’s sap can cause third degree burns
and permanent scarring if you get it on your skin,
not to mention blindness if it comes in contact with your eyes.
And because it’s large, hollow stem
makes such a neat toy—like a natural flute or telescope—
Giant Hogweed poses a particular risk to children.

That’s one big, bad weed!

Jesus speaks to us this Sunday about spiritual gardening
where the seed being sown is the word of God
and the field is the human soul.
He warns us of a number of serious pitfalls:
hungry birds, rocky ground, and choking thorns—
the devil’s envy, shallow faith, and worldly temptations.
These all have the potential
to prevent us from bearing much fruit—or any at all.

It’d like to add one more hazard to Jesus’ list:
weeds—in particular, those of the invasive kind.

We live in an age where many folks have come to assume
that any religion or spirituality, any philosophy or system of thought,
is surely just as good as every other.
“It’s really all the same,” it’s often said,
“and besides, they’re awfully nice people.  It’s all good!”
So we find certain practices, certain principles attractive—
especially ones which agree with me
when I just so happen to disagree
with the doctrines or disciplines of the Church,
whether the issue is contraception or human cloning,
marriage equality or euthanasia, abortion or an all-male priesthood.
Hence a foreign concept takes root in my thinking,
an alien belief takes root in my soul…
…and like the invasive plants
which gradually take over our roadsides and meadows,
what appears at first to be harmless can sooner or later
crowd out God’s word and my native fruit-bearing potential—
maybe even prove to be quite toxic.

Now, this not at all to suggest that Catholics
ought to be unquestioning or close-minded—far from it!
God, in fact, has made us to be thinking human beings,
not unconscious robots.
And believers need to be in constant dialogue
with the rich and diverse world beyond the borders of the Church,
since there is much that is true and good
to be found outside her visible limits.

However, if that were to mean we’re free to just pick and choose
among the many aspects of the Catholic faith…
…then wouldn’t that also mean everything is up for grabs?

My friends, if—as we profess—Jesus is truly the only Son of God
(and not just one wise and holy man among so many others),
then his teaching and the Church in which it endures
have an unprecedented credibility and an unsurpassed authority.
(And when I speak here about the Church,
I’m referring to her divine constitution,
not the foibles of her very human members.)
Since the mysteries of the kingdom
often come wrapped up in paradox and parables,
where do I turn first for deeper understanding? 
When looking for answers,
can it be prudent for me to assume
that the Church is out-of-touch or behind the times—
and that I somehow know better myself?
Especially on complex and controversial matters,
shouldn’t I take all the time and effort necessary
to make sure I really understand what the Church teaches
and where it’s coming from?
Instead of gravitating toward ideologies
which simply confirm what I already think and feel,
am I willing to let my mind be challenged and my heart stretched a bit? 

Thankfully, Giant Hogweed
hasn’t made its way to Franklin County—at least, not yet.
Of course, the best way to stay safe from this big, bad plant
is to keep it far away
and never fall prey to its false beauty in the first place.
So, too, with the rampant relativism of our day.
Yet even if my soul’s garden has already gotten a bit weedy,
all need not be lost…if I’m prepared to pull up
these invasive concepts and convictions by their roots.

Just like the rain and snow that come down from heaven,
watering the earth and making it fertile,
so does God continually sow the seed of his word—
never stingy, but exceedingly generous, scattering it widely.
In spite of many obstacles,
God’s purpose, God’s plan, will not be frustrated.

Let us, then, make sure there is room aplenty
for God’s word to take deep root in our hearts,
for it to grow and bear abundant fruit in our lives.
That is, of course, the end for which the Lord sends it.

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