“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:15-16).
So as not be taken in by false prophets within in our Church and society, and most importantly, so as not to be wolves in sheep’s clothing ourselves, we need to know the Shepherd. We need to know, as St Irenaeus (whose feast we celebrate on Monday the 28th) described: Jesus, “who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (p. 526 Against Heresies, Book V, Introduction). Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who entered and embraced our fallen and wounded condition to become fully human while remaining fully divine, came to shine a light on that which causes division and disunity. Jesus came to reveal those sinful acts which estrange us from God and one another. Jesus came to show us the value of our unique dignity as human beings, the wonder of God’s creation that we are, and empower us so as to restore our relationship with God and one another.
How can we know Jesus today as we are removed from the time of the Apostles?
One way is that we can begin by following the lead of Pope Francis who has been encouraging us to read and prayerfully reflect upon the Gospels each day.
This does not mean that we just read the words on the page with the sole intent to finish it and move on to something else, so as to complete one more task. Instead we are to read slowly, reflectively, spending time with Jesus by mediating on a word or phrase from the Gospel that peaks our attention. We may receive an insight, an intuition, a confirmation, a sense of excitement, or a question as we are reading. We can also be confused, perplexed and frustrated. A helpful practice is to place ourselves in the scene as if we are watching a movie. Then we can imagine our senses coming alive and pay attention to what arises.
Another gift of encountering Jesus in the Gospels, that some may not recognize as a gift, is that we will naturally be drawn to examine our conscience as we read and ponder the life and teachings of Jesus. As we are able to see those fruits of selfishness, greed, judgment, gluttony, lust, pride, indifference, sloth, envy, wrath, and/or any others that we are bearing. We can then seek God’s forgiveness so to begin to prune those branches within us that lead to such fruits. This discipline will provide more energy and nourishment for the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, chastity, goodness, generosity and self-control, to grow and mature in our life.
It is important to sit with the encounters we experience from a reflective and meditative reading of the Gospels and not just blow off what arises. We need to pay attention, meditate for a time on that word, phrase, insight, or other experience that has arisen. We need to also be open to wrestling with passages that may challenge us, that we do not understand, or disagree with. Each experience provides us with the opportunity to ponder and discern what God may be revealing to us.
Through a daily commitment of praying with, meditating upon, and allowing the Gospels to come alive, we will not only know about Jesus but come to encounter and know him and his voice as his disciples did, personally. We will in time begin to bear the fruit that arises from the nourishment the living Word of God provides that will shape our thoughts, words, and actions.
As we experience the Gospels critically as well as prayerfully, we will come to know Jesus and his voice, we will begin to recognize, through the fruits that others bear, those false prophets who seek to lead us astray, and so be better able to resist their temptations, as well as our own temptations. We will better know the truth of who we are and who God calls us to be. More importantly, we will not lead others astray but as we bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit we will help others through word and deed to experience the Shepherd in their lives.
Photo: I recently purchased The Word on Fire, Volume I – The Gospels. It is an awesome resource that provides rich commentaries from the Church Fathers, the saints through the ages, contemporary authors, and Bishop Robert Barron, whose Word on Fire team produced it. There are excellent artistic representations of the Gospel accounts to aid in mediation as well. A great resource for the journey!