Friday, April 4, 2014

Wolves—More Influential Than We Think

I came across an intriguing blog post earlier today that flipped the image of the wolf in sheep's clothing on its head: The post links to this video, which I highly recommend. I thought it was very cool:

The video illustrates how a species can have a huge impact on the environment. In this specific case, the wolves have a very positive impact on the environment at Yellowstone. The blog post takes this idea and suggests that these certain positive traits of the wolves can be effective in the work of evangelization.

I want to suggest that this analogical application of specific "positive" traits of wolves can just as equally be applied to negative circumstances that have positive appearances. In other words, I'm returning to Christ's own image of the wolf in sheep's clothing and exploring it in light of the above video.

The mental image of a wolf in sheep's clothing conjures up something ridiculous and obvious. Only sheep would fall for it (but, of course, many times humans act like sheep). I think also of Little Red Riding Hood—"What big teeth you have!"

But these influential traits of the wolves on the surrounding environment suggest several applications to evangelical work where there may be wolves in sheep's clothing, both of insidious and innocent intent. What do I mean?

I mean the activists of the Church who wish to "do" something good when they are not prepared—these are the wolves of innocent intent, leading sheep to slaughter without meaning to and with the best of intentions (at least on the conscious level...). There are the insidious wolves, those of malicious intent, who use their positions of power and charisma for selfish ends. 

But if the wolf is so influential to the environment, in hundreds of different ways, some of which are subtler than others, others of which have results that follow from a kind of chain reaction, then we ought also to note how people in the apostolate can have similar influences.

When I was talking about the necessity for holiness in doing authentic evangelical work with other seminarians, one seminarian remarked how a pastor he had worked with and was close to was tremendously popular and successful at his parish but admitted to not always praying the Breviary or not putting such a huge emphasis on holiness. This apparently was supposed to counter my point about the necessity of holiness, but we can see now, from the example of the wolves, how even on the human or natural level alone, influence and persuasion can work very deeply in an environment.

Take another example to show its immediate absurdity: look at popular social Gospel people and pastors at mega churches. How do we "calculate" "success"? This same seminarian, incidentally, several months later in a somewhat related conversation made the counter to me that success in evangelization isn't about "numbers." (At this point, I have no idea what "success" to that seminarian really means, but he has my prayers.)

Just because a person is having huge, observable influences around him—what does it amount to? And what standard is being used? People often point to Medjugorje and remark, "Look at all the good that is coming from it!" Hundreds of thousands of conversions with a particular emphasis in devotion to the Blessed Mother. Of course, that is the ostensible behavior. But at what cost? What might Satan see, for example? Perhaps he sees the opportunity to sneak in an attitude of outright disobedience to Church authority. Perhaps he sees the opportunity to sneak in slightly heretical notions of eschatology and Marian devotion as well as the nature of private revelations. I don't know. I suppose on this specific matter, we will see when Rome comes out with their final report on the phenomenon within the next few years. 

My point, to repeat and summarize, is this: on the natural level, humans can have a huge impact on their environments with effects that ripple out in ways we can't imagine nor take into account. Those around us, using standards that we derived from who knows where, judge these effects to be good or ill. But I want to question, not so much how much good is really being done, but whether we are really in any position to judge such a matter, and especially in light of what we know from the example of the Saints in doing evangelizing work, what are the odds that the situation really is all well or that we are judging it properly? The fact of the matter is that the majority often isn't trustworthy with respect to judging these matters because the majority is precisely the group who needs evangelizing! 

Food for thought.

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