Have you read it?
It’s an intriguing book, and one I recommend to people who have suffered a great loss in their lives.
The story is a beautiful parable about faith, loss, great pain, and eventually healing and forgiveness through the guidance of the Holy Trinity. In it, the author meets Creator, Son and Holy Spirit. And God is an elderly African American lady. What an important image for our times.
The story centers on a father whose young daughter is kidnapped and brutally murdered by a serial killer while on a family vacation in the Wallowa Lake area of eastern Oregon.
“The last trace of his daughter, a blood-stained dress, is found on the floor of a dilapidated shack set deep in the woods.
In the wake of the murder, a crushing depression settles on (the protagonist) and he (begins) to question his belief in God. As the novel opens, (the man) receives a mysterious invitation to come to the shack.” The man thinks the letter is penned by the killer, but it turns out the letter is sent by God.
For the purposes of this homily, I’d like to borrow The Shack author’s metaphor of the human soul as being like a beautiful garden when tended to properly.
In our lifetimes, many thorns, weeds, and rocks can exist in the gardens of our souls, and need constant care and tending to create a thing of beauty in the eyes of God.
Some of us may think we are immune to these thorns or rocks or weeds cropping up in the gardens of our souls. But we are not. None of us. Not even this deacon.
This is what Jesus is telling us about this weekend. We need to keep the gardens of our souls tilled with rich, fertile soil for the word of God to continue to take root.
When I was a teenager, I got in big trouble for sneaking out of the house one early summer night to hang out with my friends. We got detained by the police for being out after midnight (and up to no good). My father was none too happy to retrieve me from the Bellevue Police Department at 4 AM. My punishment (my penance) was to remove all the rocks from a patch of land my father wanted to turn into garden.
The project took the remainder of the summer to complete and generated a pile of rocks that would be the envy of any chain-gang prisoner.
Needless to say, a life’s lesson was learned by this naughty 13-year-old.
The garden of my soul has been quite rocky at times in my life – in desperate need of tilling and patient removal. Thank goodness for the blessing of having my rock garden experience in my youth to help bring things into perspective.
Is our soil rich and fertile creating the conditions required for the Word of God to be nurtured and come to fruition as a Disciple of Christ?
How about the soil of our children?
As Catholic missionary disciples, are we helping our children, our teens, our young or older adults keep their soil rich and fertile so as to have their faith fully alive and thriving?
I had the blessing to spend several school years as Campus Minister at Archbishop Murphy High School after ordination.
I had gotten a call to meet with the President of AMHS who told me, “I think you’d make a great campus minister.” To which I replied, “Wait, I just raised two sons through the challenging teen years. And you’re asking me to spend my days hanging around teenagers? Are you crazy?”
But after feeling God’s call in the request, I eventually said “Yes.”
It was an eye-opening experience to see faith through the eyes of our young people.
As the parent of any teen knows, teenagers pay close attention to everything we say and do, and are quick to point out any hypocrisy – especially hypocrisy to the teachings of Christ. What a wonderful mirror they can be to our growing in authenticity as disciples of Christ.
Many young Catholics today walk away from faith. They need our help at times to clean out their rocky gardens, allowing for their faith to flourish.
As parents, we can talk about lessons of Jesus, but we can also sometimes fail to live up to Jesus’ example. We can fail to tend to our own rocky gardens and don’t see that our own hypocrisy is one of the main reasons young people leave the faith.
Our judgments of others without showing mercy or understanding, our unkind and unloving words about our enemies, our intolerance of those we disagree with, our failure to help the least of our brothers and sisters in need, our focus on material wealth and all its trappings, all these things are enabling young people to question what this Jesus thing is all about -- what this Church is all about.
That’s why Pope Francis could not have come at a better time in our troubled world. The Pope prefers to teach not only by his words, but more importantly by his actions.
The lesson learned for us all can be found in a quote attributed by some to Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi:
“Preach the Gospel always. And if necessary, use words.”
This is how we make rich, fertile soil in our souls and the souls of our children. When there is harmony between our words and our actions, and when we let our actions speak louder than our words, we create soil rich, fertile for the Word of God to take root for all to see.
So, I ask: What rocks do we need to remove from the gardens of our souls?
This is a good thing for each of us to reflect on in the coming week.