In an earlier post, The Flowering of Evangelization, I drew the comparison between flowers and the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. Faith is the root, Hope is the stem and Love is the flower. I asserted that Faith, like a flowering plant, is reproduced in others in the flower itself. Not via the Hope in the stem, nor in the root Faith, but via the beauty and attractiveness of the flower on top.
Fr Gregory described his encounter with a weed in an otherwise lovely garden of bushes and flowers. The weed had the tuft of white seedlings in full bloom, ready to be scattered. The leaves below had sharp, spiky ends that would cut if handled. The root was a long tapper that had bored deeply into the soil.
Knowing that this weed would spread and choke out all the other plants if left untended, he reached to pull it out. Taking hold at the top, he simply shook the spore free, causing the seeds to spread. This would eventually cause the weed to proliferate even faster. Taking hold at the level of the leaves, he cut his hand on the sharp spikes that surrounded the stalk. It was very painful. He eventually reached as far down the stalk as possible to grasp the weed at the root. He slowly and deliberately pulled the root out of the ground, careful to not break off the least part or else it would simply grow back.
This is a lesson for us when dealing with our sins. Unlike evangelization, eradicating sin works from the bottom up. Simply letting the sin alone will allow the sin to take deep root in us and will proliferate at its own pace. Even worse is to take notice of it casually and half-heartedly pull at the top (why be radical? everyone's got a little sin, right?). This just scatters the seeds into other areas, accelerating its spread.
We may think to take a big swipe at it all at once and grab it in the middle to pull it out. We immediately snatch our hand away from the sin. It's too painful! I'm not about to do THAT again! Better to leave it alone.
No, the best approach is to get to the root of the sin. Here, speed is the enemy and may cause the root to snap making us think we have won when there is still more to be found, later to sprout. Dig deep and get it all!
- Don't ignore the sin. It will lead to more sin.
- Don't play with sin. Rationalizing that it's okay will simply spread it faster.
- Don't think you can quickly end sin. It can be painful to attack it, leaving you unwilling to try again.
- Go for the root! Discover the need in you that is driving the sin. Uncover your own motivations. How does this sin have a hold on you? What rationalizations do you make to protect it? Work it out slowly and carefully.
- Fill the empty hole. Plant a virtue where the empty hole was. Otherwise, a new sin will find the soil already softened and ready.
This last lesson is very important. Once a habitual sin is defeated, it is never permanently gone. In times of boredom or temptation, it will seek to return. Seeds are everywhere. You must seek to fill that time with virtuous activity. You must always remember that you never want that sin back in your life. You must recall the work and self-denial you put yourself through to rid your life of it.
Make sure there's no bare earth in which to grow. Plant yourself a garden of virtues!