What Makes A Great Prophet? A Reflection on the First Reading of the Second Sunday of the Year

The First Reading today speaks to us of the Call of Samuel. In examining we can see what it is that makes a great prophet. Put more theologically we can see the ways in which God’s graces form a great prophet. Samuel was surely one of the most significant prophets of the Old Testament and lived at a critical time as Israel  shifted from the time of the Judges to the time of the Monarchy. Ultimately it was he who would see Israel through he difficult time of Saul’s reign and prepare and anoint them for David’s Kingship to follow.

What then are some of the ways that God prepares Samuel and every prophet (this means you) for mission? Consider these five.

1. The CLOSENESS of a great Prophet – In the first reading we find the young Samuel sleeping in the temple of the Lord. In those days the temple was not yet in Jerusalem and was not yet a permanent building. It was a tent structure in Hebron and Samuel, as one in training for temple duties, is sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant which carried the presence of God.  Thus we see that a great prophet begins and remains so by staying close to the Lord.

We who would also be prophets must do the same if we wish to be great prophets to our family members and friends. Who will a priest preach with authority and power if he does not stay close to the Lord. How will a parent give prophetic witness to their children if the Lord is a distant God to them?

How do we draw close to the Lord? Daily Prayer, daily and devout reading of scripture, frequent confession, weekly reception of Holy Communion, and a spirit of wonder of and awe. Ask for these virtues. Stay close to the Lord. Great prophets stay close to the Lord.

2. The CONSTERNATION of a great Prophet  – The first reading depicts Samuel as struggling with some confusion as to what and who he is hearing. God is calling, but he doesn’t get it. He struggles to figure out what is happening to him. A look at the call of most of the great prophets reveals that most of them struggled with their call. Moses felt old, inarticulate and inadequate. Jeremiah felt too young, Isaiah too sinful. Amos would have been content to remain a dresser of sycamores. Most prophets feel overwhelmed and experience consternation.

Samuel as we see, eventually figures it out who is calling him and begins his journey. He had to listen for a awhile to to do however.

How about you? Many of us too would want to run if God made it clear he had something for us to do. In a way, it is a proper response, for pride is a bad trait for a prophet. To experience a bit of trouble, consternation and anxiety helps to keep us humble and leaning on the Lord.

What is the Lord asking of you? Perhaps like Samuel you struggle to understand at first. But stay close to God. Things will eventually become clear.

The great prophets struggled. But that is the point, they struggled with God for an answer and for a vision.

3. The CONNECTEDNESS of a great Prophet –  Notice that Samuel does not discern alone. He seeks counsel from a wiser man to help him. Though Eli is not a perfect teacher, God does make use of him to help Samuel.

So too for us, who ought to seek good, strong spiritual friends and clergy to help us discern. Scripture says, Seek counsel from every wise man (Tobit 4:18). It is a bad idea to discern alone. Hence we should cultivate relationships with wise and spiritual men and women in our journey.

Great prophets are connected to spiritual leaders and teachers. Prophets read and consulted other prophets. God does not just call us to a vertical private relationship with him. He also connects us to a horizontal relationship with others. Seek wise counsel, great prophets do.

4. The CORE  of a great Prophet  – Samuel is advised by Eli to say to God: Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. A great prophet listens to God. And God does not always say easy things. He often challenges in what he says, and wants to send them. But great prophets listen, they listen very carefully to God. They do not try and bury his word or become forgetful of what he says. They take seriously what they hear and do not compromise God’s Word.

And what of us? It is too easy to avoid listening to God, or to compromise on what we have heard. But great prophets listen carefully to God by: reading and studying his word, looking at how he speaks in creation and in the events of their day, studying the teachings of the Church and carefully, prayerfully listening to the still small voice within.

To you want to be a great prophet? Listen.

5. The CONVERSION of a great Prophet. We see in Samuel’s life how be became gradually transformed into a great prophet of God who never compromised God’s word. The text says: Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect
. Because Samuel was close to the Lord, faced his consternation, was connected to the wise, and had that core virtue of listening, he became a great prophet. The text says in Hebrew (more literally) that not a word of his fell to the ground.

Being a great prophet is a work of God. But we, who would and should be great prophets ourselves, ought to heed the way God works to make great prophets. Learn from Samuel, study all the prophets, and you will see what God can do.

And while most of us wish our words had greater effect, it is less clear we want to undertake the process to get there. Ask for the gift. Ask for the gift to stay close to God, to struggle and accept some of the consternation that comes with being a prophet. Seek to be connected to wise counsel, learn the core value of listening. And thus will God bring about in us a conversion such that none of your words will ever fall to the ground.

This song says, The Lord gave the Word, Great was the company of the preachers.

13 Replies to “What Makes A Great Prophet? A Reflection on the First Reading of the Second Sunday of the Year”

  1. Thank you, Father. Being humble while listening for God IS so very important. I can’t hear anything but my own thoughts if I am not humble. I must empty me of me to make room for God and his desires for me; not my desires. It is HARD! My priest spoke of Andrew this morning, how he “brought” people to Jesus (Peter, boy with fishes, forget the third…but the point was that he wasn’t trying to be great, and he never expressed (that we hear about) jealousy of his brother’s greatness. Be humble, Bring others to God. Be an instrument of God. Thank you, again.

  2. “How will a priest preach with authority and power if he does not stay close to the Lord? How will a parent give prophetic witness to their children if the Lord is a distant God to them?

    “How do we draw close to the Lord? Daily Prayer, daily and devout reading of scripture, frequent confession, weekly reception of Holy Communion, and a spirit of wonder of and awe. Ask for these virtues. Stay close to the Lord. Great prophets stay close to the Lord.”

    Amen, Msgr. Pope. People cannot be reminded of this enough!

  3. In the midst of anxieties and stress, there is often a temptation to flee and to doubt and become discouraged. But, as you say, the Lord will ease this anxiety and stress when we lean on Him – perhaps this is a sign that we are doing His Will? I can imagine that this can be perplexing. Why should I be anxious? Well, I suppose it is because I should have more faith in my Lord and less in my self alone and remember that I am not alone – we can forget that we are not alone; we can also forget that we are doing something, not for ourselves, but for God. Moses felt anxiety and stress – feeling unfit for the task that he had been given. When feeling anxiety and wanting to flee, we have to forget ourselves and refocus on the other who needs help and on God who is depending upon us to do the good for the other. This requires much, much prayer and exposure to God, as you stated. Indeed, you are wise to state these things. We need your help. We really, really need your help.

  4. Good father,

    Your article starts off with “What Makes A Great Prophet? ” and gives some suggestions to achieve it, but the credentials you enumerate fail to give the most important council necessary to prevent today’s “Great Prophet” from being or becoming a “Great False Prophet.” A true prophet will never contradict either the dogmas of the holy Catholic Church nor the teachings of the Magisterium of the holy Catholic Church.

    Do we need new prophets? Personally, I have no desire to be one, nor would I recommend anyone else aspire for it as I remember the caution provided in Chapter 16 of the Didache: “For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate.”

    Some think we are living in the last days. Maybe. My last days are certainly here. I have no need for any prophets who came after Christ. I prefer to stay in a state of grace through weekly reception of the sacraments of Penance and daily reception of the Holy Eucharist. My recommendation: Evangelize, don’t prophesy.

    Jesus, I trust in you!

    1. Well just following the Biblical story here Roy, your point is well taken. Please recall no homily can or does state everything. In the verbal homily such things were covered. As for this written version it is an outline and needs folks like Roy G to fill it in. This is a conversation. But I will say, Roy, you seem a rather hyper-cautious individual given to worry a good deal more than is necessary. “Prophet” here is used in the wider sense, in the baptismal sense here.

      1. Amen to that Msgr. Let’s be a bit more moderate – a bit more open to that “small, quiet voice” who speaks to us, if we believe. All Peace and Care.

      2. Me, hyper-cautious? Nah. I’m just following the Church’s urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

        In the end is death, judgement, heaven or hell. The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell is a call to the responsibility incumbent upon me to make use of my freedom in view of my eternal destiny.

        Sorry for being off topic.

    2. I suppose Msgr. Pope could’ve changed the title to “What makes a Great Apostle” and hence probably pleased Roy G. who might think we are in need of Apostles. But then Msgr. probably would’ve had a comment from Roy F. or Roy H. saying “Hang on a second, Samuel was no Apostle, he was a prophet… watch your wording!”

      I think Msgr. Pope’s message is clear as can be. And this article should be read by anyone considering a conversion, a vocation, a yes, a fiat. (and all you potential prophets out there too!)

  5. Each time I hear this reading tears come to my eyes; perhaps it somehow reminds me of my personal conversion. The reading also shows how God is slowly developing a relationship with humans throughout history, culminating in the revelation of the Father through Jesus his only begotton Son.

  6. And then there are the least — but not less necessary — of the prophets. These prophets and their prophesy also come from God alone; His word and presence also speak through the least of the prophets’ mouths and / or actions.

    Unexpectedly, we are all called through Baptismal graces to be among these least of the prophets — like it or not. We all have some sort of prophetic mission. We must all draw close to the Lord, stay there, and listen attentively; then we must speak out or do whatever God asks of us –IN SEASON OR OUT.

    The least of the prophets will have missions (though on a lesser scale) like those of Amos, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, St. Paul, Therese of Lisieux, Mother Teresa, John Paul II — and the life-source, exemplar and greatest of all prophets, Jesus. We must remember Mother Teresa’s words: ” What we do is less than a drop in the ocean. But if it were missing, the ocean would lack something.”

    Here are a few examples of prophetic missions: Priests are called to be prophets for their flock and fellow priests. Each parent is called to be a prophet to his / her spouse and children. Each child is called to be a prophet to his / her parents / siblings. We are all called to be prophets (in speech and / or action) whenever and wherever God sends us.

    Note that sometimes prophets express or demonstrate God’s Love and Mercy; they fill us with Faith, Hope, and Love. At other times, they express God’s displeasure with or judgment of our actions / thoughts; they call us back to God and His Truth even while they themselves are often filled with a sense of unworthiness and fear; they often meet with resistance, persecution, or even death– Yes, even the least of the prophets! “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (Jn 15:20)

    Let us pray for the love, humility and fortitude to say with a pure heart: “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

  7. I’ve learnt something which i didn’t know or didn’t recognise… Sometimes things happen or we read scriptures but never find the revelation behind. Thank you, and im looking forward to reading more of this

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