27 June 2007

Wolves and Prophets

12th Week OT (W): Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18 and Matthew 7.15-20
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Albert the Great Priory


[NB. I don’t like this homily, or should I say “homilies.” There are at least three homilies here! I’m posting it anyway. . .]

Abram worries that he will have no heirs. God assures him that he will have his own children as heirs. Taking Abram outside, God tells him that his descendants will be as countless as the stars. Abram places his trust in the Lord who “credits it to him as an act of righteousness.” Abram’s faith is for us, the Church, the good tree that bears good fruit. Root, trunk, branch, and leaf, Abram’s covenant with the Lord is deeply planted in an act of surrender, a giving-over of his plans, his needs, his wants, everything that might mitigate against the fullest possible embrace of the Lord’s will for himself and his descendants. Abram not only receives from the Lord the land and a nation and a people, he also receives from the Lord a revelation of the divine, an unveiling of “I AM.” And this revelation, this unveiling of what we cannot know otherwise, remains with us in the preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ—handed on through the ordinary and extraordinary ministry of the magisterium, the teaching office of the Church.

Jesus warns his disciples against false prophets. Who are these false prophets? Prophets are called by God to be His voice among His people. Prophets are called and given a vision of perfection, a glimpse into the fulfillment of our human history. Then they are told to look carefully at their tribe or nation or people or church and compare the fulfilled vision with the reality of who we are right now. Glaring failures in charity, hope, obedience, trust, fidelity to the mission, all of these are fodder for the prophet. And he or she is called to point to the ideal and tell us in clarion notes: “We have strayed! Let’s get back on track, get back to bearing good fruit!”

A prophet called by God to restore His people to fidelity in the covenant cannot preach or teach against the apostolic faith or in any way attempt to undermine the legitimate authority of the Church in defining and defending the “handed on” revelation that Abram won by faith so long ago. There is nothing “prophetic” about an obstinate refusal to listen to the magisterial office of the Church. There is nothing “prophetic” in assuming a suspicious critical stance when reading and teaching magisterial documents. And there is nothing “prophetic” in presuming to hold the office of prophet for the Church w/o the Church’s participation in the selection. In other words, I don’t get to decide (contra ecclesia) that I am a Prophet. I cannot be for the whole Church, in the name of the Church, that which the Church has not authorized me to be.

Who are these wolves? Well, who claims to teach the faith yet will not accept ecclesial authority in defining the faith? Who sets him or herself up as an “alternative magisterium,” as a rival to the apostolic ministry of our bishops? Who abuses their ecclesial authority for personal gain or the promotion of allies or the destruction of enemies? Who steps into the shoes of an apostle only to lust for a bigger and more prestigous pair? Who will not serve the least, or protect the innocent? Who lifts up his or her idiosyncratic theological views as the truth of the faith, or promotes w/o the benefit of Tradition his or her eccentric readings of scripture as authoritative? The list could go on and the list could easily include me, you, all of us at some point!

Jesus is not asking us to hunt the ravenous wolves among us. We must pay attention to them to keep track of them. Our most fundamental task is preaching the gospel as the Church has handed it on to us. We do this well when we surrender pretension, guile, pride, the need for approval, and disobedience. We preach the gospel best when we use our God-given gifts to explore His revelation to us: in creation, scripture, and in Christ himself. But we cannot preach the gospel at all outside the Body that is Christ’s church. When you see or hear a wolf in sheep’s clothing, tag him or her. Watch carefully. But remember: bearing good fruit is more important than hunting wolves.

Pic Credit: Osmo Rauhala