No matter our status in life, even if we are teachers of the faith, we must always remember that we are receivers of the word of God indebted to those who have protected and preserved and faithfully handed down through the ages the faith that was taught directly to the apostles by Jesus Christ.

Gabriel Bunge, a hieromonk and hermit, speaks of this need to see ourselves as receivers of the word in his beautiful book Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer.

This why, he writes, that we must always have “Constant recourse to the holy Fathers” if we are to remain true to the word, the faith taught by Christ.

We can never merely study the Church Fathers, Bunge says, noting that “The example of the holy Fathers, their words, and deeds are … a model that obliges one to imitate them.”

Along with this comment, he includes what seems to me a most important quotation from the fourth century monk Evagrius of Pontus (c. 346-399), a disciple of St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379):

“It is fitting for those who want to walk along the ‘way’ of him who said: ‘I am the way and the life,’ that they learn from those who previously walked along it, and converse with them about what is useful, and hear from them what is helpful, so as not to introduce anything that is foreign to our course.”

Failing to follow the Fathers is dangerous, Bunge notes, a point that has eluded some of those gathered at the Synod of Bishops in Rome to discuss the theme “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.”

The history of the Church bears witness to this danger.

St. John warns in Revelation, or the Apocalypse, that the Church would suffer attack from without and within.

Throughout history, emperors, kings, queens, princes, dictators, and presidents and their political decrees have threated and attacked the Church externally.

Laity and priests and bishops and cardinals with their own ideas and desires, or who went along with the prevailing winds of political power or secular whim, have threatened and attacked the Church from within.

Some have found their way back to truth after wandering. Some have left the Church because it would not bend to their will. Recalcitrant others, not frequently enough, have been excommunicated.

Others, however, have remained to cause turmoil and dissent, and today there are those from within who confuse the faithful with ideas “foreign to our course” that would cause a break with the tradition that was handed down to us.

When we remain true to tradition, we become the good ground in which the seed of the word of God can grow, which Our Lord speaks of in his parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-8).

When we remain true to tradition, we gain, in the words of St. John, fellowship with Christ. Without this tradition, Bunge says, there is no true fellowship with Christ. And fellowship with Christ gives us something the world cannot:

“By adhering to the living fellowship with ‘what was from the beginning’, man, who is bound to space and time, enters into the mystery of the One who, free from these limitations, ‘is the same yesterday, today and for ever’, that is, of the Son, who is himself ‘in the beginning’ in the absolute sense. Beyond space and time, this fellowship creates continuity and identity in the midst of a world that is subject to constant change.”

Adhering to the living fellowship, therefore, is essential to how we hear and live the word of Christ and stand among those through the ages who, in the words of Our Lord, “in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience” (Luke 8:15).

May the bishops meeting in Rome, particularly those who have strayed, hear with such a good and perfect heart as they craft their recommendations on the family for Pope Francis this coming Saturday.

And may the pope, perhaps the last line of defense against things foreign to our course, receive them with an equally perfect heart.