We discovered a nasty surprise as our deck-replacement project got under way recently. About mid-afternoon, the contractor tapped on the back door (never a good sign!) and asked us to come outside and take a look.
The band board was in bad shape, he said. Even a carpentry dunce like me could tell he wasn’t exaggerating. An inadvisable choice of material (red cedar), shoddy construction (no flashing or caulking to speak of) and 30+ years of moisture had rendered this structural element completely incapable of bearing any load. It would have to be replaced.
The wet-rot had proceeded incrementally through the years, I suppose—and it was well-hidden, at least to my inexpert eyes. But the damage was nonetheless there, and needed to be addressed before the project could proceed.
An obligatory change-order…not unlike the one St. Paul seems to identify in the famous passage from his letter to the Romans, proclaimed at Mass on Friday.
I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.
I can empathize with the Apostle. And so, apparently, can a friend of mine – who emailed me shortly after encountering the saint’s lament: ‘Wow, I could have written this! I wonder why after all these years of reading I didn’t know these verses. This is me to a tee!’
It’s not a pleasant experience, encountering wet-rot in our lives – whether as part of a construction project or in measuring our progress along the path to holiness. Clearly, though, it’s a necessary one. As long as the wet-rot exists, we won’t have a solid foundation on which to build.
It’s true for our personal spirituality. It’s probably true for us as Church, too. I was reminded of that fact when I reflected on the notable event we mark this coming Tuesday – the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.
Writing about the anniversary this week, a local Protestant pastor notes that Martin Luther “saw his actions as a call for renewal and not schism.” In other words, Luther didn’t set out to start his own sect. Rather, he was trying to identify some institutional wet-rot that needed to be addressed. He saw a need to change the way in which the Church had been proclaiming the Good News. It’s safe to say that my Church — Martin Luther’s original Church — hasn’t always accepted this encouragement with a full measure of grace.
Because here’s something I’ve noticed about wet-rot in recent days. It’s humiliating. The ego tends not to take it well.
As soon as wet-rot is made visible, the protests of self-protection arise. “But I didn’t know!” “It’s not my fault!” “They should have known better…done better…built better…”
Of course, we have to get beyond these mewlings if we truly desire to make progress toward something new. Intriguingly, in this Sunday’s gospel passage, Jesus suggests that we have a powerful ally in the effort.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
Think about that for a moment: God knows us well – knows us better than we know ourselves. God certainly sees the wet-rot, even the damage that may be hidden from our eyes.
And still God desires us. God wants our hearts…our whole hearts…wet-rot and all. Because then, and only then, can the rot be removed…and the construction of a solid new platform begin.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.