Friday, February 26, 2010

On the Prophets

I was reading Habakkuk, one of the "minor" prophets, over the last couple of days. It got me thinking about prophets and what they do.

Prophets listen to God

Samuel says to God, ""Speak, for thy servant hears" (1 Samuel 3:10). Prophets are people who are open to God's call. They live lives of prayer. They listen for the still, small voice (such as Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-12). Sometimes they are reluctant to accept the call (such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jonah). But ultimately, they submit to God's will for them so they can be His instruments.

Prophets tell truth to power

This is why the prophets endured suffering and death. "Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?" (Acts 7:52). "Woe to you! for you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed" (Luke 11:47). One can understand the reluctance of prophets when receiving their call, because they knew that telling powerful people they are doing wrong is never popular. John the Baptist lost his head over telling Herod that his marriage was contrary to divine law. Jeremiah calls himself "a man of strife and contention to the whole land" (Jeremiah 15:10). This is not surprising, since God tells Jeremiah:

You shall say, "Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon this place that the ears of every one who hears of it will tingle" (Jeremiah 19:3).

Leaders of any kind don't like to hear things like this. But God often has hard truths to tell us.

Prophets call the people to conversion

The powerful are not the only ones asked to change. Jonah's message to the people of Nineveh causes them to repentance from the king on down. On Ash Wednesday we hear from the prophet Joel:

"Yet even now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

Hosea, who uses spousal imagery to describe the covenantal relationship between God and His people, calls the people of Judah to conversion:

I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress they seek me, saying, "Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up." (Hosea 5:15-6:1)

When Judah's love proves false, God says, "I have hewn them by the prophets" (Hosea 6:5). The way a lumberjack would cut down a tree, the prophets cut down our defenses, our rationalizations, our self-deceptions. All falsehood falls before the prophets' words of truth.

Prophets know who is in charge

They do this through prayer: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). They come to know that they are prophets because of God, not because of themselves, in contrast to "guilty men, whose own might is their god" (Habakkuk 1:11).

Prophets are faithful

Despite the difficulty of their missions, they persevere. Even Jonah, who fights God every step of the way, fulfills his mission. Their faithful witness is an example to a faithless people.

All the baptized are called to be prophets

We often think of prophets as "other people," in the same way that we too often think of saints. We think that these are people we can never aspire to be. However, such a view is an abdication of our baptismal heritage. In Lumen Gentium from the Second Vatican Council, we are reminded that

...all the faithful, that is, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are constituted the people of God, who have been made sharers in their own way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and play their part in carrying out the mission of the whole Christian people in the church and in the world. (31)

The prophets who came before us are our examples. God the Father Who gave us His Son is our love. Christ Who died for our salvation is our strength. The Holy Spirit who inspires us is our wisdom. We are called to be prophets. The key is to pray, listen, and follow.

Mother of Prophets

One of the titles of Mary in the Litany of Loretto is "Mother of Prophets." As the litany goes, "Mother of Prophets, pray for us."

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