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Today's prophets: where are they?
What started out as a discussion amongst friends slowly progressed into hot words over the topic of who is a prophet.
Some thought that a prophet is someone like the prophets of the Old Testament, but now that we are in New Testament times there is no more need for prophets because Jesus has spoken all that there is to be said. Then there are those who think that prophets and prophecy are for the "thin brained" (whatever that means)!!!! It turned into an interesting discussion, to say the least.
My understanding is that a prophet is someone called by God to be His spokesman.
A prophet would probably never choose such a career because it's both thankless and possibly even dangerous. A prophet's life is spent speaking about what is wrong in "the day" and how God sees the society. Indeed a prophet sees with the eyes of God and speaks out with courage and honesty.
As I pondered more and more about what it means to be a prophet, I thought about the prophets of old and those of our own day. Do we have any? And if so who are they? Do we recognise them as prophets, or as "troublemakers" or "idiots" who just don't know when to stay silent? Or even as "gloom and doom" merchants?
The real prophets of the day remain a paradox, both very clearly visible yet almost invisible. Visible because they are very loudly speaking contra societal mores yet invisible because no one really sees them as prophets. Maybe that's a good thing because the life expectancy of the prophets of old was not that long.
Does our society actually speak about prophets and prophecy? Except maybe those on the loony fringe?
I remember recently speaking with someone who definitely is a prophet of doom: the world is surely about to collapse in a heap, and when this starts I tend to wander (glaze-eyed look comes over me) because if the world is going to collapse then there is not much we can do about it, and we with it. But I did start thinking about prophets of our days and our times and the things that they speak of, prophesies about what is happening and will happen if we continue on our present course.
Looking back into our recent history we can see that there were voices of warning but we did not listen and hence we are where we are.
Actually it was talk about the terrorist acts which set us off on this unexpected debate. How did the terrorist acts begin? Why? When? Etc. The damage? The pain? The result?
The most oft mentioned prophet of our era appeared to be the Dalai Lama, followed by Gandhi, followed by Mother Teresa, followed by John Lennon (of all people! I think his song Imagine had something to do with it), followed by Bob Geldof.
I listened stunned. I couldn't believe that we are such good friends but our thoughts are worlds apart. Eventually my tongue loosened, and I think I let it rip.
What about Pius XII who guided the church through the war years and protected and helped Jewish people in wartime Europe through various hidden ways, and today is acknowledged as "Righteous amongst the nations" a title of honour given to those gentiles who helped Jews during the Holocaust. He not only spoke out against the Nazi regime but acted to help.
What about Pope St Paul VI who wrote the magnificent paper Humane Vitae (1968) as a response to the cultural changes of the fifties and sixties, the drug culture, the loosened sex morality and throw-away bra culture, the feminist revolution, and the introduction of the "pill" which would serve to change forever our understanding and honour of sexuality, femininity and masculinity.
The modern prophet St Paul VI stood against all – even those within the church – and said NO to contraception because it meant saying NO to God and to life and would eventually lead to loss of respect between men and women and the use of each other's bodies as objects rather than what God had intended them to be.
The words St Paul VI spoke, so prophetically, we have the fruit today just in one biblical generation, 40 years, visible for all to see. Listen to his words from 40 years ago "It is also to be feared that the man growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium , may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment , and no longer his respected and beloved companion." (Humanae Vitae, 17)
This document was spoken and delivered by a prophet of our day and like the prophets of old we also didn't listen or change. Looking around society we see abuse of sexuality, abortion in holocaust dimensions, homosexuality not only practised but demanded as a right and defined as marriage. Sexual abuse and exploitation of children pandemic, and the demand for euthanasia.
Today where the rights of a bush rat have become more important than a child in the womb or a disabled human ... all this, why? Because we refused to listen to a prophet speaking the words we needed to hear.
When God speaks through His prophets but still the people do not respond then God acts. Generally that is done in a way which leaves humanity to slowly disintegrate until it is ready to call out for help and to listen. We are not quite there yet.
St John Paul II
St John Paul II was another great prophet of our own time. Many of us have spoken and heard him speak to young and old about hope, love, faith, and holiness. Especially the holiness of the body.
As he looked back over the previous 50 years he saw the change in how the body was/is perceived and wrote magnificent works like Love and Responsibility, Veritatis Splendour, Theology of the Body, Dives Misericordia, Ecclesia de Eucharestia, Fides et Ratio, Redemptoris Hominis, Pastores Dabo Vobus, Dominus Iesus, Familiaris Consortio, Letter to Families, Letter to Women, Mulieris Dignitatem, and list continues a mile long.
The greatest thing amongst all of his works is his recognition and expression and speaking about the human being and the holiness of the human person when understood well. So holy is the human body that God Himself in Jesus took it also.
This modern prophet saw that the malaise of humanity was its spiritual loss, spiritual apathy resulting in abandonment of all its understanding about holiness, humane behaviour, humanity, love, holy sexuality, respect, honour. The very things which make us different from any other part of creation. With what seemed like rapid fire speed "things" had changed and in the change a new and fraudulent type of humanity emerged. He spoke and wrote against the imposter.
John Paul II travelled and spoke widely, to huge audiences, giving hope, especially to the young whom he saw as the hope of the church, society and future.
This was a prophet in our time and in our day. And I was privileged to be at several of his private audiences. God always sends us the people needed for the times we live in.
Pope Pius XII was sent to lead through the war, Paul VI to try and stem the sexual revolution emerging from the acceptance of contraception, and John XXIII was a prophet to bring the Church to engage with the present time so that God's gifts could be understood with a Spirit speaking the language of today.
The documents of Vatican II understood in their proper intent are magnificent and will one day be fully discovered, perhaps by the generation that God is preparing to bring us out of the modern "Egypt".
John Paul II was a magnificent prophet who wrote more on the holiness of the body than all the other Popes throughout history, in order to try and restore the human being as it was "in the beginning".
Because in the beginning it was not as it is now. He spoke of being able to return the young to that place of the beginning. His hope for the new exodus out of the new "Egypt" was the young, and the new charisms emerging which would support and encourage the family. His gift of prophecy was for a return to holiness, to family, to respect and love of body as God had intended in the beginning.
Pope Benedict XVI
And then Benedict XVI ... a newer prophet but a prophet most needed for these times. A prophet to steer the Church through the miasma of suffering due to sins committed by those who held a place of honour, trust and respect. And finally Pope Francis who must lead the Church strongly through the sorrow it is enduring because of the sexual abuse issue and of course the changes which must come.
This prophet who speaks with humility and great apology, and stand there humbly with his hand tied just like Jesus in front of Pilate, for the sins of his brothers, has the courage to call again for trust, where perhaps trust is hard to give. Slowly, with words, actions, meetings, hard decisions, he is speaking again the words which are needed to be spoken and could not be spoken because of the sins of the church.
By the sins of some members of the church, Satan, the father of lies, attempted to silence the voice of the church on matters of faith and morals. Francis and all the Popes before him ask forgiveness for sins committed. Slowly this prophet, again with the young (over a million in Madrid) is saying "forgive us our trespasses" but I believe in you. You pick up the cross and carry it onwards. I trust in you.
We have prophets of the type of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and Zechariah.
They just have a modern name, and we have to listen to them otherwise, like the prophet Jeremiah who was known as the prophet of "woe", we may also hear the same "woe".
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 3 (April 2015), p. 5
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