It was a warm summer day before cell phones took over the universe, and my little brother and I were playing a game of home run derby in the backyard of our childhood home in Malvern, PA. I was about 13 years old, he was about 10. He was an athlete (and still is an athlete), I...well I just wandered around on little league fields (I’ve stopped wandering around...well at least on baseball diamonds). But this day there weren’t any scoreboards...or umpires just two brothers having fun pitching tennis balls at a cut off hockey stick trying to hit them into our neighbor's pool (over the years we tried to hit lots of items in their pool...but I’ll save the story of “Pete Sampras mad at his neighbors” for another occasion).
Home run derby was our favorite summer game - we played it often and we had a dirt spot in my father’s otherwise pristinely manicured lawn to prove it. We would always stand in the same place to hit baseballs. We played it so often that we wore out the grass down to the earthen clay within a few weeks every summer. My father couldn’t keep up with us, but he tried. He even went out and bought us a regulation-size home plate but we liked our dirt spot better putting his new rule to the game under protest. It was fun to dig into a batter's box like the big leaguers we were imitating. He was also constantly planting grass to see if it would take hold in between innings, we too were also displeased at this, because the seed around the edges of our box would germinate resulting in a decreased size and a misshapen batter's box.
On this particular afternoon, while my little brother went into the garage to find more tennis balls, I noticed that the groundskeeper had achieved a small victory in the restoration process of our surface and our dirt spot was shrinking. Something had to be done. At first, I began to kick out the encroaching blades of grass, it proved to be ineffective - this was tough turf. Thinking to myself “he probably went Kentucky Bluegrass on us” only one solution remained...rip it out by hand. So I bent over and began to rip out the roots fistfuls at a time. Little did I know that the grounds crew was watching the game. It didn’t take long for the chief groundskeeper to emerge from the dugout with an ultimatum “Stop yanking out the grass.”
I however was not happy with this particular call, and like a first-time manager arguing with an umpire vocalized my displeasure topping it with an expletive. My father immediately gave me the hook for the use of vulgarity. My outburst and crass language resulted in eating a full-sized bite of Dial soap. By the time I showered the next morning with my bitten soap in hand I had learned that "thou shall not use vulgarity to insult thy Father."
My dad and I can now laugh about this incident, but I knew I was in the wrong from the moment the soap met my saliva. Despite my best efforts I still haven’t reached perfection to date. I’ve had plenty of other moments throughout my life that I’ve selfishly uprooted others' ideas and goals for personal gain. I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve been disobedient and unapologetic. Simply put, I’m a sinner and so are you. We say the confiteor at Mass acknowledging that we have torn up our Father’s turf or picked another’s fruit.
So we sinners who have sullied our souls with sin should be grateful for the soap-in-the-mouth moments. The Church teaches that to “Admonish the Sinner” is a Spiritual Work of Mercy. It doesn’t taste all that great, but I’m thankful for the occasions I’ve been reprimanded. When someone has taken the time to call me out, I’ve experienced some great spiritual growth. Christ affirms this idea in Scripture, “every branch of mine that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2). Jesus knows that our imperfection and sinfulness must be cut from our lives because He knows a more intimate relationship with Him and the Church is the result. So while it may be uncomfortable we should not fear those who wield spiritual hedge shears because after the pruning is done we will be stronger and more rooted in faith.
In other words, thank God for soap and for all those who have helped us Dial it down.