At 20-something, my friend Michele is possibly the youngest person working a plot in a certain gated community's garden, but she knows her stuff.
Don't be fooled by her college T-shirts or the hip music blaring from the Jeep she pulls up in -- she's not allowing weeds of any variety to grow in her garden. She's set up trellises for her tomatoes to grow, diligently laid down mulch and has used a variety of chemicals, whose effects I do not understand other than that they keep away the bugs.
As I walked gingerly around the seedlings, trying not to trample the indiscernible sprouts that promised to yield onions, strawberries and spinach, she plucked out a few weeds with particular disdain.
"Nut grass," she muttered. "It's awful."
"Oh, yeah," I said. "Uh, grass ... hate it."
"No," she clarified. "It's terrible. See this?," pointing to a small bulb in the root. "It grows deep, and if you don't pull it all out, it just keeps coming back. Again and again and again."
To my untrained eye, her garden looked great. Tidy rows full of promising shoots. However, as Michele shifted through the dirt, she uprooted several of the offensive bulbs, explaining that they would wreak havoc if allowed to remain.
The plants that Michele wants to survive receive food, water and bedtime stories. However, the offending weeds are mercilessly yanked lest they take over the whole garden. Our lives are like a garden in that sense. The moral life is a constant struggle to avoid sin and embrace virtue. Just like the nut grass, if sin is not immediately addressed, it takes over, becoming habitual and ruling our lives. Just like the weeds, attachment to sin can seem invisible, harmless, but if allowed to remain it slowly takes over.
One of the Gospel readings on which we meditate during Lent is from John 9, in which Jesus made clay from saliva and restored the site of a blind man (be cautious when sharing this passage with middle schoolers -- it can take the notion of WWJD to an awkward place). Christ assures us that he came into the world "for judgment. So that those who do not might see" (John 9:39).
Sin can be like that pesky nut grass, so integrated into our lives that it blends right in: the conversation with a co-worker that shifts to gossip, or the disagreement with a friend that turns into a harmful exchange of insults. It is Christ whose life opens our eyes and enables us to "weed out" these habits.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Gospel "combats and removes the error and evil which flow from the ever-present attraction of sin."
Just like Michele doesn't let a day go by without weeding her garden, we can't let a day go by without realigning our lives to the Gospel and examining where sin may have taken root.
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.