A Reflection on Cow Manure

Last Friday night several of us monks went up to the north pastureland for a bonfire. The air was crisp, the s’mores were perfect, the stars were shining, and as I stepped away from the blazing bonfire that was beginning to singe my beard, I put my right shoe into a cow patty! There were a number of land mines around, strategically placed for all of us to have a shared experience. Of course, we all uttered what you are all saying under your breath right now: “Yuck,” and “That’s gross!”

But I was surprised: I wasn’t grossed out by that. There were times when I drove down to my rural parish of St. Joseph in Miesville, MN and stepped out in the parking lot of the town of population 135 surrounded by fields, when the wind direction was just right, there was the smell of “new life,” of a certain contribution to the surrounding fields that made things grow. So I guess I was used to such things.

As much as I would like to compare sin to cow patties, I don’t think that comparison works. We just don’t have a sense of the ugliness of sin anymore. But rather, we are horrified and scandalized by the idea of Jesus gazing on us in our ugly sinfulness!

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof ….” These are the words we hear at every Mass, taking the words of the centurion and praying for the healing of our souls. The Son of God descends from the heights of heaven—the Incarnation being central to every season of Advent—and He promises “I will come and cure.” The Lord is not scandalized by our unworthiness. But we are.

Sin isn’t the cow poop of our lives. It’s our unworthiness, our shame over our sinfulness. It seems strange to me to think that we would so ashamed to show ourselves to Jesus, to the One who descended to the abode of the dead—for nothing could be uglier than that! Our sinfulness is a poor excuse to forbid the Lord to gaze upon us.

The problem is clearly ours, not His.

We define mortal sin as something that separates us from God, and rightly so. Then we apply this concept to all of our sins and pull away from the God who comes to us.

When I was a child, I have a vague memory of running around the schoolyard close to the time my dad was going to pick me up from school. I slipped and fell in a puddle of mud. I cried and cried. Guess what my dad did? He picked me up, took me home, wiped my tears, and washed me clean. I got his clothes dirty with my mud. And he didn’t care. 

And neither does Jesus, who comes to us to wash us clean.

“… but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”