Updated: Jul 12, 2021
“Thus says the Lord: Stand above the ways,
and see and ask, about the ancient paths,
as to which is the good way, and then walk in it.
And you will find refreshment for your souls.
But they said: 'We will not walk.'” (Jeremiah 6:16)
Nothing has changed in 2,600 years. Owing to our fallen nature, we are stubbornly self-sufficient. We will not walk.
Refreshment for our souls? No thanks. We are smart, enlightened people. Many of us don’t bother with religion. For those that do, many want religion to conform to ourselves and our tolerant, modern sentiments. Religion that is branded "bigoted", inconvenient, or embarrassing? No, thank you.
The ancient paths are difficult to adhere to, but they contain truth and wisdom. This truth and wisdom are dismissed. We don’t need God’s help. We most definitely don’t need any advice from religious extremists. You know, those uneducated, frightened folks that don’t have the courage to face up to the hard, scientific facts of life.
Fa. Seraphim Aldea, an Eastern Orthodox monk, put it this way:
“We have many sheep on our island. When you drive and there is a lamb in the middle of the road, that lamb does not run away from the car. The lamb runs straight to his mother and starts feeding himself in the middle of the road. The instinct in that lamb is healthier than the instincts that we have developed by being fed on the lies of this culture and this society. That lamb knows that the safe place, the source of life is his mother and he knows that is where he is going to be protected.”
Fa. Aldea continues:
“We don’t do that. Instead, when the spiritual wolf attacks us, we do not run to our spiritual mother or our spiritual father. Instead, we turn straight to the wolf and we think that the wolf’s advice is the advice that will save us from the wolf himself. It sounds absolutely mad! But it’s the same bad instinct that started with Adam and Eve and then became stronger and stronger down to each generation.”
I suspect most readers know the wolf pretty well.
I spent almost fifty years under the wolf’s spell. Now, by the grace of God, I have a small measure of understanding of the wolf’s game. I still have to exercise caution. Without continual prayer and reliance on God, the wolf just takes over. As many saints have said, you are never really free of the wolf until you die. This is not our permanent home. We are on a pilgrimage.
Christianity has always been counter-cultural. Unfortunately, many believers today feel that the only way to appeal to those outside of the faith is to compromise with the culture, i.e. accept the wolf’s entreaties to one degree or another. We have decided, unconsciously perhaps, that even though the wolf is bad, he should be heeded.
At times, we realize that the wolf’s advice is in conflict with the core tenants of our faith. Such moments of clarity are usually dismissed. Instead, we tell ourselves that the faith may be outdated in certain areas and needs to be refreshed to reflect the sensibilities and discoveries of our time.
Stubborn self-sufficiency runs counter to a sense of community and oneness with God and oneness with our brothers and sisters. As such, living a life without God usually leads to despair. The wolf knows this and encourages us to continue to forge ahead without asking for help, especially help from God.
How do the wolf’s bad fruits manifest themselves? It’s different for everyone. While under the spell of the wolf, I chose to not speak to my father and sister for three years due to resentments stoked by the wolf, with my cooperation. This came on the heels of the onset of mental illness, multiple hospitalizations, and a stubborn refusal to take medication. The wolf had me pinned down and his claws were on me.
At age thirty-eight, I went through a divorce. At age fifty, after decades of stubbornly trying to harmonize my relationships or bend things to my will, I was completely exhausted mentally, financially, and spiritually. My final surrender came on the heels of foreclosure, side effects of psychiatric medication, insomnia, and impulsive drinking. Ultimately, I dragged myself to an Alanon 12-Step program for help. That started my eventual reversion to the Catholic faith.
Stubborn self-sufficiency feeds both our despair and our pride and leads to spiritual bankruptcy. Yet, many of us forge ahead with the wolf’s advice, thinking he is our friend. I certainly did. After decades, I discovered, through the grace of God, that I was thoroughly duped and, worse, that I was fully complicit in it. As a result, I suffered and caused others to suffer, as well.
My “dear” wolf - I try my best to completely ignore you these days. I can’t do anything alone. I need God and I need others. I don’t need you. You are clever and beguiling. Your advice is sweet and syrupy. But the truth is that you hate me and only want to see me ruined.
I must learn not to confuse the wolf for his subjects. That leads to tribalism. After all, in some way or the other, we are all being harassed by the wolf, so it’s important to show compassion for those under the sway of the wolf and pray for them. If I discern there is an opportunity, I may try to plant a seed of truth.
I try to remember that nothing happens without God’s permission. When I think back on my past encounters with the wolf and brace myself for the trials ahead, I know that everything, both trials, and consolations, ultimately come from God’s loving hand in order to mysteriously bring about my sanctification and the sanctification of my brothers and sisters.
“Convert, O rebellious sons! And I will heal your rebelliousness.” (Jeremiah 3:22)
David McHugh grew up in Germany and currently lives in northern California. He is married to Maya and enjoys spending time with their blended family. David works in banking and helps with RCIA in his local parish. He enjoys tennis, reading, and religious and creative writing. In 2020, he self-published a short suspense novel, Point of Convergence. He also writes a religious column for St. Peter’s Church that is published in the Dixon Tribune.