Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ripple Effect

You know what that is. Toss a stone into a pond and watch the ripples spread out in concentric circles till they reach the shores, far beyond the point of the initial impact. The ripple effect is not something observable only in material nature, but also in human behavior. Our words, acts, and even thoughts can (and usually do, whether we’re aware of it or not) have far reaching effects in the moral and spiritual “universe.”

Notice what happens, for example, when gossip or rumors begin. They spread very quickly, and not only are they far-reaching, but as they move farther from the source they get more and more distorted so that in the end much damage can be done, much falsehood spread around. It is even worse when deliberate lies are spread.

On the other hand, a good ripple effect is seen in something like preaching the Gospel. Christ tossed the “stone” of St Paul into the Mediterranean Sea, and the ripples of his preaching reached not only its shores, but the ends of the earth, traveling though the centuries as well.

Other ripples are manifested in our actions. See, for example, the disastrous ripple effects of child abuse or alcohol and drug abuse. Children of abusers often become abusers themselves, and the ripples continue for generations, leaving a trail of ruined lives.

On the other hand, people like Blessed Mother Teresa have spread ripples of love and compassion by their tireless labors and the attractive witness of their exemplary lives. Many have been inspired to continue the work of serving the needy in the love of Christ.

The point of these few examples (and there are many more, both positive and negative) is that we have a great capacity for good or evil, far beyond what seems to be the limited influence of our individual lives. We can send ripples of goodness, love, mercy, and truth all around us—or we can send ripples of hatred, malice, and selfish disregard for others. We are all connected in some way with each other, especially Christians in the Body of Christ. St Paul makes this influence clear when he writes: “All the members of the body, though many, are one body… You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it… If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1Cor. 12:12,26-27).

Therefore our sin is not an isolated or private matter. When we sin against Christ, we sin against his body (that is one reason that the confession of sins must be made to God in the presence of a priest, the representative of the whole Body of Christ as well as of the Lord). So too no one can rightly say, as is commonly asserted today, that he can do whatever he wants “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” Sin, even the most “private,” does hurt others: it wounds the Body, it sends darkness and defilement into the spiritual “atmosphere” of the world. It adds to the evil of the world and detracts from the good. Even to think in an evil or inappropriate way about another person is to degrade that person and to send more evil into the world.

It is important, then, that by thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that are righteous and pleasing to God, we send goodness into the world, healing and upbuilding the Body, cleansing the spiritual “atmosphere.” It has been said about monks that they stand before God like trees that silently purify the air. Also, the vicarious sufferings of “victim souls” have won graces for the healing and conversion of many, with whom they did not have any personal contact. Love and goodness, by the will and power of God, are able to transcend space and time.

Send ripples of love and goodness, then. Know that you have a greater influence on the course of salvation history than you have yet understood. Every bit of good contributes to the fullness of good that God wishes to communicate to every human soul unto eternal happiness. Every bit of evil contributes to the wholesale degradation and destruction desired by the devil unto eternal damnation. So, think holy thoughts, speak the truth, act with love. Give glory to the Lord and it will reach the ends of the earth.