National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Penitential Poison

BY BOB HORNING

August 20-26, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/21/06 at 10:00 AM

 

I don’t like poison ivy.

From the first time I got it 20 years ago, I didn’t see anything good in it. It’s ugly, it itches, it seems to spread. It makes being in the woods much less enjoyable.

Each time I have had it, it has ended up over most of my body, sometimes even on my face, and it has lasted nearly a month. One year I got it twice.

Recently, when I spotted its telltale splotches on my left arm, I was quite upset. For one thing, I couldn’t figure out where it came from because I hadn’t been near its usual habitats. Secondly, and worse, I began thinking, “Here we go again. Scratch this summer. Pun intended.”

Maybe one benefit is a chance to strengthen my willpower: “I will not scratch it, I will not scratch it. I will think about something else. I will think about Jesus.”

Then an inspiration came: If I cover up the poison ivy on my arm I won’t be able to scratch it, so it won’t spread. Not wanting to use up the last couple of bandages in the house, I reached for the masking tape. Surely that would keep the rash in place, and would seal it off from getting any oxygen. There was great satisfaction in being able to stick it to my nemesis. Pun unintended. 

Anyway, in the two weeks since I first noticed the devil rash on my arm, it has crept only about one inch further. I promptly taped that inch. Never before have I enjoyed success against poison ivy. I feel a little like Louis Pasteur or Jonas Salk must have. I was eradicating a disease. I have thought of patenting my remedy, but how do you patent a medical application for masking tape?

Now I am thinking ahead to next summer, because the poison ivy does itch even through the tape somewhat. It seems the only solution is to avoid the woods altogether and to not pet stray dogs or cats who may have rubbed against the plant. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If I wrote that last paragraph well, you are beginning to think, “sin, near occasion of sin.”

Isn’t it much less likely we will sin if we avoid the woods where sin lurks? Or even avoid the path of temptation that leads to the woods?

I learned that one nanogram (a billionth of a gram) of urushiol (the offending substance in the poison ivy plant) can cause a rash, and that 500 people could itch from the amount covering the head of a pin. We don’t want to touch others with our urushiol.

Fortunately, if we do wander into the woods, we still have the capacity to turn around right away when we realize our mistake. We can be heartily sorry for our offenses, pull out our masking tape and do our best to limit the damage.

Better yet, we can imitate the Israelites in the wilderness, who, when they sinned, raised a bronze serpent on a pole, looked at it and were healed.

Better yet still, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation can take care of our poison ivy once and for all.

I would trade in my masking tape for that any day.

Bob Horning writes from

Ann Arbor, Michigan.