Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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
Needed: a few good prophets
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the July 19, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)
A clever question to ask someone out of the blue may be, “How do you make a prophet?” Now, depending on their hearing and frame of reference, he or she may respond, “Sell something for more money than you paid for it.” Of course, their spelling is off. “Profit” is one thing and “prophet” is another.
Even with correct spelling, the word “prophet” can conjure misleading images. Can we still not run across people who would associate “prophet” with the likes of a Jean Dixon, the now-deceased woman of some measure of fame who read crystal balls and tarot cards? She was a prophet in the secular understanding of the word, but not in the true Biblical sense.
Perhaps, then, we should think then of a man of God’s Word like John the Baptist. We all have an image of him: fire-flashing eyes, hair shirt, and a dish of grasshoppers at hand. Can we not hear the piercing shout of his call to repentance and to ready ourselves for the in-coming crash of God’s Kingdom? Such images may confirm our stereotype of an Old Testament prophet – and lead us all too readily to identify a prophet as someone who stands on a street corner ranting at passersby or verbally banging people on the head with shouted verses of Sacred Scripture.
If that be our image, no wonder a reminder that we are all called through our Baptism into Christ to be prophets does not excite us. Who wants to be identified as the local weirdo – or have to eat insects instead of barbequed hamburgers?! So let God nab a few folks to speak his words, but not me!
A careful reflection on a more authentic image of a Biblical prophet may be useful – even if it does not, in the end, calm our nerves.
The prophets of old were individuals much like any one of us who, one and all, experience a personal challenge to be faithful to the Way of God. They came from any walk of life. From Elijah to Malachi, the prophets were rather ordinary citizens from rather ordinary towns, cities and rural settings. Like us, their lives were filled with dreams of success, acceptance and careers. They cherished job security, respect, and a likely sought a comfortable life.
As they matured and grew in awareness of life around them, however, it seems that to a one, the prophets experienced a commanding call, not so much to foretell the future, but to speak forth the Word of God. Not a one of them brandished a degree in Public Haranguement, nor relied on their personal intelligence and well-informed opinions about matters religious or secular. Not a one advertised their services in the Yellow Pages of social media. They had no personal ax to grind. Yet they sensed a call from Someone to whom the core of their being was accountable.
The passage of time has often glorified the moment of the prophets’ call, but at some point in time, either gradually or suddenly, these real-to-life individuals said “yes” to a convicting call to be the herald of the kind of word the world does not embrace readily. Seeing their communities increasingly steeped in faithlessness and watching corruption embrace their society, they were compelled to say something. Their compulsion did not come from a fear of neglecting God’s call. The need to speak the truth came from within, where they were in touch with their truest, agenda-free selves – their souls, if you would. There they stood, alone in truth, before that self and the God whose love held them in existence. A scary place to be – and a place not entered by many authentic hearts. Anchored in God’s truth and trusting wholeheartedly in it, the prophets gave God’s word a human voice. “Thus says – not me – but the Lord God!”
The Spirit of the living God within them moved a whole tradition of prophets to direct confrontation. As in touch with the movement of God’s Spirit as they were, the prophets did not find the role of truth-speaking prophet easy. In fact, they often complained of their lot. One of them even accused God of seducing him! The anguishing complaints are not without grounds, because a prophet had to deal with the effect of the word they shared. Their peers laughed at them and insulted them. Some were stoned; others were stripped naked and tossed into slimy mud pits. In the end, their own people killed the lot of them. What a life!
Through all the ridicule and rejection, the prophets had to struggle to remain faithful to themselves and to an objective truth they announced. They had to resist the temptation to punish or to be vindictive. Constant was the need to remember that they themselves were not responsible for forcing people to respond with conversion and changed behavior. The hearer of God’s word is always left alone to choose freely good or evil.
These women and men of faith – and the word they spoke – are preserved in our faith tradition to this very day as clarion witnesses and challenges to our own spiritual journey. Whether it be at home, at work, or at school, it is tempting to merely go along with the crowd. It is easy to turn aside from God’s truth. Even when we see evil, sinfulness, and corruption, it is easy to ignore it with feigned ignorance. After all, no one of us likes the role of prophet. We do not cherish the challenge to encourage others to integrity and right living.
In raising a family, for example, the opportunities are plentiful to guide children to the right way of living. Also, there is often need to address business situations with the word of moral truth. And at school there is constant struggle to avoid moral compromise. And which of us can ignore the hunger in modern society for a sense of clear moral direction?
For every one of us there is need to listen to our inner being where we are personally and radically addressed by a loving God. There we hear the sure call to be true to ourselves – the same call that came to the prophets of old. We can ignore or deny such a gentle but sure call. We can argue that our personal response doesn’t matter – either to ourselves or to others. It is far easier to pursue our careers, build our success stories, and score our points. The world rewards such ignorance and affirms spiritual laziness. But in the end, what is gained?
The prophets of old could go to bed at night, very much at peace with themselves. They sleep now in the bosom of Abraham. From their places in the Kingdom they bid us to not fear exercising the same role they have played, and encourage us to be faithful to the Spirit which calls to us from deep within.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Moderator of the Curia and pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa.)
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