From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: The lack thereof

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the July 5, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Recently while trying to find something worthwhile on television I happened across a program which featured past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Their observations about world affairs were quite interesting — certainly more captivating than watching some macho man strangle yet another alligator!

It was clear that the men and women featured in the program were rich in experience. In the course of their conversation with one another, a challenging question surfaced. The moderator asked: Judging from your experience, what would you say is the greatest obstacle to world peace?

A surprising and immediate response came from one of the recipients. I was expecting an answer that identified poverty, the nuclear arms race, AIDS, food distribution or even a lunatic dictator as the greatest threat. Without hesitation, one lady responded with an obvious conviction in her voice: “The greatest obstacle to world peace is apathy and indifference! People — both the world renowned as well as the ordinary man or woman — are too unwilling to move out of their comfort zones to rock the boat or change the established order of things. A certain pessimism and cynicism seems to have its grip on them.”

Sounds to me, then, that the world needs a few more prophets like John the Baptist — whose feast day has fallen this year on a Sunday in Ordinary Time. We lack prophets!

The prophet is not one who reads crystal balls and foretells future events. Rather, the prophet stands in the true biblical tradition as one who boldly speaks forth the word of God.

Now, there probably are a number of individuals who think they are serving the world as prophet when, in fact, they merely are spouting their own ideas. The prophetic word is very different than hot-headed screaming, loud-mouthing or blind opinionated-ness. It certainly is not the same as self-righteous judgment which is born of a desire to control and command the lives of others until they fit into one’s own vision of things.

In reflecting on the role of the prophet, I actually found a clue in Zachariah, the father of Saint John the Baptist. When told by the angel (Luke’s Gospel) that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child, he scoffed cynically. God struck him mute until his son saw the light of day. Subsequently, dad Zachariah had plenty of time to quiet down and think things over. In this nine-month period of silence he had opportunity to let God do the talking. Hence, when it came time for naming his son, Zachariah broke with peer pressure and popular custom, insisting on the name the angel had indicated: John.

The name means “God is gracious.” Not gracious in the way that we commonly use the word to indicate politeness or skillfulness. A more literal translation of the Hebrew name “John” would be "God is full of grace." A freer translation captures the core of the name: God takes the initiative — or, God is in charge here!

Zachariah had learned the lesson of the prophet — the same lesson that his own son would learn during his time in the desert. When we get out of the way, God acts, and in mighty and powerful ways. The false prophet is one who still works from a position of power and strength. He or she shouts their opinion under false pretense and fools no one more than themselves, regardless who is claimed as the basis of their authority.

The true prophet always feels caught off-guard and weakened by their call. They are not particularly intelligent, holy or insightful. The true prophet is weak, willing to listen for the welling Spirit of God’s word within. In a sense they are caught speaking it or acting from it almost beside themselves. God truly does choose the weak and make them strong in speaking a truth that transforms.

The challenge before our world today is not that there are not enough spoken words to listen to, but that so many words are lacking in the kind of substantial truth that leads to life. Our world lacks genuine prophets who are willing to set aside personal agenda and control to let God’s Spirit prompt them to speech and action. It is far easier and much more comfortable to be indifferent, apathetic and cynical.

No one likes to be a prophet. No one likes to be maligned, berated, rejected and stoned. Yet there is no doubt that God calls us — especially those baptized into union with Christ — to assume the responsibility of being God’s weak but powerful spokesperson.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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