Principles of Powerful Prophecy – A Meditation on the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Advent

The Gospel today presents some Practical Principles of Powerful Prophecy as we focus on the ministry of John the Baptist. All of us have been anointed as prophets by virtue of our baptism. Now, a prophet is not usually someone who foretells the future but, rather, someone who speaks for God, who announces the truth of the Lord to this world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this prophetic office in the following way:

 [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God. (CCC, 1270)

 So, we have an obligation to evangelize and to be prophets in this world. But how can we do this effectively? What are the some of the essential ingredients? The ministry of St. John the Baptist in today’s Gospel provides four “Principles for Powerful Prophecy.” Let’s look at the elements that are displayed

 1. The  Poise Powerful Prophecy. Poise here refers to balance. The text says, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea  and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Note the content of John’s preaching is twofold. He first says, “Repent!” And then adds, “For the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  Here is a balance to get right. The preacher and the prophet must speak frankly of sin and call people to repentance. But the prophet must also speak of the grace available to conquer that sin and the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven is now  open and available.  Hence John the Baptist is willing and able to declare the reality of sin and the necessity of repenting from it. But he is also able to declare the availability of the Kingdom wherein one is able to find the grace to overcome sin.

 Too many preachers, catechists and even parents lack this balance. In the past, some argue,  that sermons were all fire and brimstone. Today it is too often, the steady diet “God is love” with little reference to the need to repent. This is one explanation of why our Churches have emptied in the past 40 years. This is because  the good news only has relevance and significance if the bad news is first understood.

 To illustrate, suppose you are looking at a newspaper and see a headline that announces a cure for a deadly disease has been found. But what if you have never heard of this disease and don’t even know you have it?  It is not likely you will read the article, it will be only of passing interest. But, now suppose you know of this disease, and that you have it, and you know others who have it. Suddenly this headline jumps out, is very relevant, causes joy and is an  article to read very carefully by you! Because you know very personally the bad news of the disease, the good news of the cure now means everything to you. It is the same with the Kingdom. We have to know the bad news of sin in a very personal and profound way if the Good News of Salvation is going to be appreciated. But in the Church we have lately soft-pedaled the bad news. Thus the Good News is irrelevant to people and the medicine of the cure is pointless. Why pray, receive sacraments or read scripture if everything is really fine? Why bother coming to Church for all that stuff? Hence our Churches have emptied, in part, due to a lack of the proper balance of repent and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

If we are going to be powerful and effective prophet we are going to have to be able to speak frankly to others about the reality of sin and balance it with the joyful announcement of the Kingdom with its grace and mercy now being available.  Prophecy must be proper by having the right balance.

2. The Product of Powerful Prophecy. The text says, At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.  Here is the desired product of powerful prophecy: repentance unto salvation for all who believe.  St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this aspect of prophecy and preaching. He is aware that he grieved some of them due to a strong rebuke he gave the community (cf 1 Cor 5) but he is glad that it produced a godly sorrow which in turn produced repentance and holiness. He also distinguishes between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow:

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation [at sin], what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done…..By all this we are encouraged. (2 Cor 7:8-13)

An old priest once told me, “Never think you have preached well unless the line to the confessional is long.” Good preaching, among other things produces repentance unto salvation. It may cause some to be mad or sad, but if it is proper prophecy, it will produce a godly sorrow and the madness and sadness gives way to gladness. Here is the expected product of proper preaching: repentance unto salvation.

 3.  The Purity of Powerful Prophecy. The text says: When [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you,  God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit  will be cut down and thrown into the fire. John the Baptist had no fear of people’s opinion and would not compromise the message based on his audience. All the credentials of the temple leaders did not impress him. Neither did the status of the Jews as the chosen people cause him to soften his message. John had no fear of human opinion, no need for the good favor of others, especially the rich and powerful.  Because of this his preaching had purity. He did not compromise the message out of fear or the need to flatter others. He spoke boldly, plainly and with love and desire for the ultimate salvation of all. If that called for strong medicine he was willing to do it.

The ancient martyrs went to their death proclaiming Christ but many of us moderns are afraid even of someone raising their eyebrows at us. Fear is a great enemy of powerful prophecy for by it many remain silent when they should speak. The fear of what other people may think causes many to compromise the truth and even sin against it. This sort of fear has to go if our prophecy is going to have the purity necessary to reach the goal.

4. The Person of Powerful Prophecy. The text says, I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn,  but the chaff he will burn with  unquenchable fire.  John’s  audience and disciples were fascinated by him, and drawn by his charisma. But as they want to know more about him, John talks instead about Jesus. That’s the message, “Jesus, not me.” If we are going to be powerful prophets the message has got to be about Jesus, not about me and what I think. We are not out to win an argument and boost our own egos. We are not out to become famous. We are about Jesus Christ and his gospel, his message, his truth. John said of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). A prophet speaks for the Lord, not himself. A prophet announces God’s agenda not his own. A prophet is about Jesus.

Here then are four Principles of Powerful Prophecy. You are that prophet whom the Lord seeks. Some one was John the Baptist for you. Someone brought you to Christ. Thank God for that individual or those individuals. But you too are to be John the Baptist for others. Learn from John, apply his principles and make disciples for Jesus Christ.

This song says:

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,
If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain

5 Replies to “Principles of Powerful Prophecy – A Meditation on the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Advent”

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful and inspiring meditation Father!! We feel you have touched on such an important issue in the Church today! Yes, the churches have been emptied . . . .I attended a Catholic elementary school where we made collages of “God is Love”, and grew up not even knowing any of the radiant truths of the Faith. I did not even know about the Real Presence. As life went on and God blessed us with suffering, we began to reach out for Him in our lives. We have come back to a struggling Church; Her moans and agonies over the lack of those in love with their Faith are felt deep in our hearts.

    And yet, I disagree just slightly with you. For I feel that so many, including certain orders of clergy think that the answer to our time is to go back to a more fire and brimstone approach, and going back liturgically. While we agree that much has been lost that needs to be restored, the consequence of this leaves me puzzled. For then, I see catholics who go to a certain Mass and think that their way is the superior way and that all others aren’t as good as them. I see them almost with an arrogance that has not lead to a deepened love of their brothers here on earth, but a very puzzling atmosphere. I see them close themselves off into their preferences, and exclusively with each other, and not going into the world or bringing God’s Love to those in need around them. This truly is what we see, my husband and I and we talk about how we want our children to be both for God . . .to love his commandments and to be His Love for others.

    When we came back to our Faith, yes, the churches had been stripped; there is much liturgical abuse that needs to be corrected; the heart of the teachings of the Church needs to be passed on to the children (and not the “fluff). . . .BUT, we have come full circle to see a certain “danger”, if you will. That amongst “faithful” Catholics, they are now being negatively absorbing the tendency to ridicule the statement “God is Love” ~ because it was abused. And isn’t old red legs so smart???? Because the truth is God IS Love!! And unless all the restoration of the liturgy, all the “instruction” in the fullness of our beloved Faith . . .unless we learn to balance teachings with the love, we can never fully be doing all for Christ. Yes, we must decrease and He must increase. Lord, plant Your LOVE in my soul with such a radiance that I can love. Truly love, for without Your Love, I am not capable of real Love; without Your help, I can do nothing; without You, I am nothing!

  2. After the baptism of Jesus by John, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a Dove,and rested on him, and the Fathers voice was heard, bearing witness to the Son; “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” This is a perfect demonstration of the Holy Trinity being present all together at the same time, but in the form of three distinct individuals.

    Yesterday’s reading (Sat. 1st Wk of Advent: Matt. 9:37-10:1) Jesus said: “The harvest is plenty, but the labors are few. Then He summoned the twelve and gave them authority (power)….” I suppost this means that we too should become the ‘labors,’ or lay evangelist, and the harvest is the multitude of unbelievers, or those who are lacking in their faith. II Tim 4:2; says: “Preach the word in season, and out of season.” John the Baptist said; “Prepare the way for the Lord.” The ‘way’ is the preaching of the Gospel. In Ephesians 6:11-17; says “Put on the armor of God.” Imagine a Soldier in Armor standing in front of you, his Helmet is salvation, his Sword is the Spirit, his Breastplate is Rightousness, his Belt is Truth, his Shield with the Cross of Christ is Faith, and the Sandals are the preaching of the Gospel. In the ancient times, the feet of the messenger of the gospel were called ‘beautiful.’

    Informing others of the message of the Bible, and the teaching of Christ will bring it’s rewards, but some people will not like to hear any of it. I usually find a way to intertwine the message of Jesus into a conversation. I have been call ‘religious’ by some of my siblings, but that does not deter me from constantly drilling in the message to family members, and others. It is a labor of love. I usually send a daily ‘text’ message containing scripture reading(s) to my ‘phone contacts.’ Sometimes I will get a response or two. One grown grand-kid told me that my Bible messages uplift his spirit.

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