Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 'B'

Sunday February 1, 2009

Is there a prophet in your life?

God reveals himself in stages and only over time do we get it right. And it is clear that God has revealed himself time and time again through prophets and prophecies, both ancient and new.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about prophets and prophecy: “Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation that will include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope. Such holy women as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith and Esther kept alive the hope of Israel’s salvation.” [Part I, Chap 2, n 64] It’s interesting that the Catechism names only women as “holy examples” rather than all the Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Minor Prophets, among them: Daniel; Josiah, Micah and Malachi among others.

We experience many conversions in life some more dramatic than others, many of which are triggered by an official or unofficial prophet.

The ‘official prophets’ are those who speak with the authority of a legitimate church or religious body. Some Catholics might list among them figures such as John XXIII, for sure!! John Paul II and now Benedict XVI, the Dali Lama or Billy Graham. But there are other official ‘maverick’ prophets within the ranks of Church officials – even some bishops such as Bishop Tom Gumbleton who has frequently stepped out of the ranks to challenge both his colleague bishops as well as Catholics and citizens at large to a more consistent application of the Gospel of life to war and capital punishment and most recently to the issue of greater justice and charity toward people of same sex orientation. His brother is gay. He has also been an outspoken advocate for victims of sexual abuse by clergy. A priest in high school abused him. His prophetic statements have resulted in his mandatory retirement but his weekly homilies are available on the Internet courtesy of the National Catholic Reporter.

But there is a host of other prophets, men and women, who although they may not speak with the authority of a religious institution, nevertheless speak with great credibility even to Church authorities. They are worthy of our attention. Some of them are members of a religious community or institute though they may not speak for that community. Erie Benedictine, Sr. Joan Chittister is a well-known irritant to many official church ‘men’ and not a few folks in the pew. Priest and moral theologian, Charles Curran must surely be listed among the most well known prophets in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions and has unnerved not a few Vatican Officials with his writings on sexuality. He too was dismissed from his theological chair at Catholic University and now holds a teaching position in Southern Methodist. Yet, he remains a Catholic priest and engages a wide audience among Catholic scholars and ordinary folks like you and me.

Some people consider Andrew Greeley a prophet.

The ancient prophetic tradition was essential to Judaism and was an ever-present corrective to both kings and religious leaders. Unfortunately, religious institutions have done away with the role of the prophet or at least have tended to dismiss prophets as dangerous to the institution.

Of course Thomas Merton was and remains one of the greatest contemplative prophets of our time.

Politicians – congressman among them—can serve as prophets. However few and far between, they are the ones who stand tall not only as statespersons but as men and woman of the highest moral caliber in a wasteland of moral compromise and ineptitude. I’m not referring to those who use their office to evangelize or use their religion as a subtle obstacle to suppress the free exercise of religion by those of a different religious persuasion.

But there are still more unofficial prophets among us – editors, columnists, reporters, sociologists, ecologists, human rights activists, physicians, attorneys, counselors, college professors, high school teachers, and of course, seasoned grandparents of every persuasion.

Even pastors and preachers can be prophetic on occasion but they too often pay a high price for speaking the truth. Martin Luther King was a prophet for sure!

“This I Believe II – More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women” edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman in association with NPR is a marvelous little common sense book for the common man and woman. It is a series of very short essays that touch on the ordinary with an extraordinary twist. I dare say that these simple self-disclosures are having a significant impact on the lives of many readers.

Prophets get us to think and to do our homework. They do not think for us or tell what to think. Prophets prick our consciences and call attention to the moral dimension of every issue be it political, social or institutionally religious. They demand our attention and call us to integrity. They often inspire but can also get under our skin. Some pay a high price for speaking the truth but ultimately, they direct our attention to what is noble and good for us as individuals, as a community of faith and as a nation.

Is there a prophet in your life?


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