Weeding the Garden of the Soul

“With persons more advanced in the way of perfection, the devil is more oblique. Where open attack would fail, he simulates the spiritual joys given by the good spirit in order to lead people astray.” (Servant of God John Hardon)

I don’t know why, and maybe it’s cabin fever, but weed seeds have been on my mind a lot lately. I was thinking about gardening, and how a gardener takes such care to pull every weed no matter how small. Weeds are not just pulled at the top; it must be pulled to remove all the roots so it can’t grow back. Gardeners know that the weeds will either choke out the good plants, or simply weaken them by drawing away nutrition and sunlight.

Some gardeners let their weeds and vegetables coexist. Of that bunch, one group leaves some weeds in place. These are the type they know they can convert into something useful. Dandelions are one gardener’s bane and yet another’s salad. Stinging nettle is an obnoxious plant but a useful medicine when converted to proper form.

Then there are those gardeners who feel all of creation is made by God and so it should all freely coexist. They take little care to protect the good plants from the bad, and the properly-ordered desire to care for God’s creation has become disordered by their lack of reason. Deep down, the idea that these should freely coexist is spawned by their own vice and interior confusion, with fear usually being the basis of that pride.

And so be it with our minds.  Most of us fall into the first or second group when it comes to gardening, but when it comes to protecting what goes into our heads, we fall into the third group. We succumb to the false feeling of togetherness with others or to thinking “I’m smart enough to not need to take precautions”. St. Ignatius of Loyola warns us of how these feel-good moments can come from satan: “the good Angel as the bad can console the soul, for contrary ends...” (2nd wk rules #3).

We heard in mass last week from the first book of Samuel, one of my favorites. God says He struck down Eli (chief priest) because Eli didn’t control his sons (1Sam 3:13). In doing so, Eli placed them before God in priority and broke the first commandment. And when Samuel prophesied to them all the terrible things that would happen if they followed a king instead of relying upon God, they demanded a king anyway (1Sam 8:4-22). They thought they knew what they were doing.

In modern times, it is much like a person who thinks no harm comes from reading a book by a popular author with some false religious teachings because they know their faith well enough to ignore the error. Or that ecumenism means we can ‘modernize’ our faith beliefs. Not to overlook the popular ‘coexist’ propaganda that renders our God as equal to the pagan’s. All of which has helped to fuel movements such as interspirituality infecting people of all Christian faith traditions. These grow out of the weed seed of self-reliance, presuming we don’t need God on this one because we can take care of ourselves well enough. Meanwhile, those false teachings enter the mind and are processed whether we believe in them or not, becoming weed seeds waiting to sprout.


“Fourth Rule. The fourth: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.” (St. Ignatius, 2nd wk rules #4)


The weeds sprout, take root, and (before we realize we even have a problem) grow quite a bit just beneath the surface. We become so accustomed to the weeds it is difficult to differentiate these from the good plants. It takes much openness in prayer, and obedient disposition, to let God show us the weeds that need unrooting. Pulling weeds disturbs the soil and threatens to uproot good plants, so we must let God take us gingerly down this path of true growth. It takes much praying for desire and courage because it is confusing and unpleasant to have God show us our misunderstandings of Him. Our ‘comfortable’ faith (that which we have created) must be hoed and turned, with weeds and stones pitched, to be prepared to accept His Truth. And that’s a humbling experience.

This post was originally published on the Face of Grace Project and is reprinted here with permission.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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