A”Rule of Life”for Prophets: A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year

020213Prophets are those who speak for God. They Love God, and they love his people, and speak the very true (and often painful) truth of God to his people. They do so not to win an argument, but because of their love and conviction that only the undiluted truth of God can save us in the end.

People-pleasing and other forms of human respect cannot supplant the reverence for God and His truth. Thus Prophets are willing to endure pain and suffering to proclaim God’s truth to an often unappreciative segment of God’s people. But out of love for God and his people, they press on to proclaim his truth, and they do so willingly, knowing that even death awaits their personal, persistent and prophetic proclamation.

Today’s readings set for us a kind of “rule for life for prophets.” And we, who are baptized into the order of prophet, do well to hear the teachings of these readings, Let us examine them in three stages.

I. The Call that is Declared – The text says: In the first reading God says to Jeremiah (and to us): The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. But do you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you.

We ought to note four things about our call as prophets.

1. The Prevenient nature of our Call- The word “prevenient” refers to something which comes before; which precedes, something that is expectant or anticipatory. And thus God has not chosen us in a whimsical way, as if to say, “you’ll do.” He has considered our call before He made us and equipped, empowered and enabled us for our work.

God tells Jeremiah and us, that he has known, loved and cherished us long before He ever made us. And thus he made us in a way that prepared and equipped us of the very work of being a prophet.

How? you say. That is as variable as the person you are. There is no one who can proclaim God or announce the kingdom like you can. Perhaps too he has especially equipped you to evangelize certain individuals no one else can reach. Just know this, God has thought a long time about you and prepared for you in very specific and thoughtful ways. What ever you have needed has “come before” is “prevenient.”

2. The Purview of our Call –The text tells Jeremiah (and us) that we are appointed unto the nations. Now, Jeremiah did not himself, in his own life, journey beyond Israel. But since his life, the Word of the Lord uttered through him, has reached every nation.

Never doubt the influence you can exert by the grace of God. Even in and through reaching one person you can change the destiny of many. Stay in your lane and do your work, but remember God can accomplish through you more than you ask or imagine. Your influence by his grace can reach the nations.

3. The Preparation of our Call –The Lord tells Jeremiah (and us) to “gird our loins.” This is an ancient way of saying “roll up your sleeves.” In other words, prepare to work by assembling what you need and being ready to exert effort.

Surely for us this means daily prayer, weekly Eucharist and frequent confession. It means prayerfully reading God’s reading and the teaching of the Church and it means keeping fellowship with the Church, and with fellow believers. All of this equips, empowers and enables us for the work of being a prophet which God has called us to do.

Beyond this there may be other specific gifts God calls us to develop, be it music, learning a second language, growing in the gift of healing, preaching, or administration. What it may be, God will show you and help you to grow the gifts and talents you have received.

In all this you “roll up your sleeves” for the work God has given and is preparing you for so that you will be an evermore effective prophet.

4. The Prescription of our Call –The text says, “tell them all that I command you.” In other words, leave nothing out, proclaim the whole counsel of God. Don’t just proclaim what appeals to you or jives with you politics and worldview, don’t just say what is popular or in sync with currently worldly thinking. Tell them the whole message, in season or out of season.

II. The Courage that is Demanded – The text says Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: against Judah’s kings and princes, against its priests and people.

And here note three qualities of a prophet:

Strength – A prophet needs to be strong, for people are stubborn and unwilling to easily change. Indeed, we are collectively a stiff-necked people, we have a neck of iron and forehead of brass. We are thick-headed, willful and obdurate. A prophet has to be willing to endure a lot to move the ball even a few inches. If you don’t think we’re a hard case, look at the cross and see what it took to save us (you). Prophets need strength and persistence.

Support- The prophet (Jeremiah and us) is called “a pillar of iron.”  That is, we are to lend support to a crumbling nation and culture. Whether our culture likes to admit it or not, it is crumbling and collapsing, If it stands any chance at all, it is only that we are willing to be a pillar of iron calling this culture back to modesty, decency, chastity, self control, maturity, obedience to God and generosity to the poor. Otherwise, everything is destined for ruin.

Sadly the Church has often had to pick up the shattered pieces of fallen cultures, nations and eras that refused to repent. But this is what prophets must do, they must be pillars of iron when cultures go weak and soft, or crumble under the weight of pride, sin and un-repentance.

And failing that,  we must become, by God’s grace the new foundation and pillar of what rises from the ashes. All of this takes great courage.

Sanctifier – Jeremiah is told that the priests, kings and princes have all been co-opted, and corrupted, and he must speak the truth to them all and summon them to repentance.

Here is the hardest work of the prophet, to call those who most benefit from the status quo, to change and repentance. This is not only hard because they are “on top” of the current system, but it is also hard because to one degree or another, they are owed respect and obedience as lawful superiors.

Navigating the balance between respect for authority and the summons of them to repentance is not easy and only God can really pull it off. Nevertheless speaking the truth to power is the unenviable lot of the prophet.

Well, fellow prophets this means you and me. I would only urge prayer here. Bishop-bashing and the usual fare of ridiculing political leaders is not the solution. Neither is quiet acquiescence when we are clear that those in authority need to hear a call from the Lord. Lots of prayer and a general tone of respect will surely lead the way. Clarity with charity, and light with love.

III. The Conclusion that is Determined – The text says,  They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

In the end, the truth will out. The Light wins, He always wins. Every night gives way to day and the light scatters darkness. Darkness has its hour but truth has eternity. Good Friday only points to Easter Sunday, and death is cast off like a garment. In the end, every true prophet is on the winning team. While he may endure jail, laughter, ridicule. persecution, setbacks and trials, what every true prophet announces will come to pass. History bears this out and it will be definitively manifest at the Last Day. The darkness cannot prevail, it always gives place to the light.

The Conclusion for the prophet, for the Church, for the Gospel, for the Lord is total victory. It cannot be any other way, God has spoken it and He will do it.

Even if in a small way the Lord Jesus shows this in today’s Gospel. The text says,

They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Here is a preview of Easter, just when Satan is running his victory lap, the Lord casts off death and stands as light in the shadow of the Cross. Satan loses, Jesus wins. That is the conclusion.

So get on the winning team. Pay little heed to the current struggle, it cannot last or win. Jesus has already won.

11 Replies to “A”Rule of Life”for Prophets: A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year”

  1. Thank you, Msgr. This is an excellent reflection and very apt for our time. I’d add the a prophet is first a person of prayer, open to the deep, intimate self-communication of God. It is this intimate relationship with God that fuels prophecy, not theory, dogma, or polemics. True prophecy is rooted in love, as today’s second reading proclaims.

  2. Thanks, Monsignor, this is a great reminder of our place in this world. Tough work, indeed, requiring LOTS of prayer!!

  3. Thank you very much for this post, Monsignor. Every paragraph gave me something to pray about and meditate over. This was just what I needed to read!

  4. There arrows are like children’s arrows, like a kid’s toy arrow.

    “. . . we have a neck of iron and forehead of brass.”–hehe, well said, knees of water, as well.

    “The seeds will grow up right through the floor.”–Tom Waits

  5. I find calling all of us prophets tiring. The word prophet implies foretelling of some event. It is confusing to hear we all all baptized into prophecy.

    Article 523 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) identifies John the Baptist as the last prophet … John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. Also, article 243 states, before his Passover, Jesus announced the sending of “another Paraclete” (Advocate), the Holy Spirit. At work since creation, having previously, “spoken through the prophets,” the Spirit will now be with and in the disciples, to teach them and guide them “into all the truth.” Prophets were individually inspired by the Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant. But now the Holy Spirit inspires the Church leaders, headed by the Pope, in matters of faith and morals, and assists all members of the Church to recognize and accept truth as taught by the Church leaders.

    1. Well, of course we share in Christ’s prophetic office, we are not independent prophets. And the Catechism teaches,

      The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one “anointed” by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king. (Catechism 1241).

      And the Baptismal liturgy says, at the anointing with Chrism: As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing in everlasting life.

      No reason to get tired. Perhaps a little resting in prayer on this topic. Further, you are using a worldly definition of “prophet” (as one who foretells the future). This is not what prophet means. A Prophet in Catholic and Biblical tradition is one who speaks for God in the world, one whom God uses to manifest his truth to others.

    2. Every time you say “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end”, you are exercising the office, charism, and power of a true prophet.

  6. David – thanks for speaking up. Msgr. and Rick, thank you both for the gentle but persuasive retorts. Rigous reflections all.

  7. Prevenient! Nice word. We were in the palm of His hand even before we were born. Thanks Monsignor.

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