In today’s first reading, St. Paul warns the nascent Christian community of Melitus, “Know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them. So be vigilant…” (Acts 20:29-31)
Being vigilant. St. Paul admonished them (and warns us) to watch and be on guard, to take our spiritual responsibilities seriously. Those spiritual responsibilities apply to ourselves, our loved ones and to our community of faith. We are charged with being vigilant with those among us who are slipping away and those outside of Christ who need to know the truth of Jesus’ desire that all be saved.
I am currently teaching a mini-course on the 16th century Reformations of the Church. There are many that have used the first reading as an inspiration to describe the reformers as the savage wolves that tore the Church apart. I would not hold that view, although I like the reference. I would argue that “from your own group, men will come forward” is the better reference. During the late 15th and early 16th century amid the cries for reform that were more than 100 years old, men came forward to lead the Church into secular power politics, imperial intrigue, corruption, and all manner of sin – they were the popes and cardinals, and not a few bishops. Yes, there were faithful women and men crying for spiritual leadership, missionary evangelization, and reverent celebration of the Sacraments. Good people arose from within the house to call for reform. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. The result was division, re-division, and an open door for the “savage wolf.”
Those who will not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. These days we can watch families disintegrate because of “religion” even as everyone remains in the Catholic Church with members moving to different parishes because of pernicious rumors, calumny, and worse. Will the result be division among the faithful, even if not formalized, with the claims of “authentically Catholic” bandied about?
Christ came that we might be one and that we would share his joy completely (John 17:13). Will people simply leave the pews not to return as they watch a joyless church turn inward on itself, leaving the mission and evangelization behind; more worried about being authentically Catholic, rather than completely Christian. And this simply opens the door wider for the “savage wolf.” And there are no shortages of wolves in the world.
May we be ever vigilant, within and outside, to share the joy of Christ.
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