Sunday, July 15, 2012

Amos was a prophet and so was Pope Paul

Our first reading for this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is a Gospel preacher's dream. Taken from the Book of the Prophet Amos, it is an explanation of how this farmer from the Northern kingdom, called Israel, while the Southern kingdom was called Judah, came to prophesy in the name of the LORD. You see, Amos was not one of the prophets who lived and worked in the vicinity of Bethel, which was the major religious Jewish shrine in the Northern kingdom, where the kings of the Northern kingdom worshiped and presumably sought advice and counsel from the prophets there.

Amos was unknown to these prophets of Bethel, but he showed up and started to speak in the name of LORD, calling Israel back to fidelity to the covenant. This is why Amaziah, a priest of the shrine, tells Amos to go to the Southern kingdom of Judah to prophesy, but leave Bethel and never speak an oracle there again. Amos' response indicates that among Amaziah's concern, perhaps chief among them, was that Amos the farmer, who now fancied himself a prophet, was honing in the business of prophecy and the material rewards that came along with being a prophet at the royal sanctuary of Bethel.

It is clear that Amos could care less about all that. He just wants to be faithful to the calling the LORD has placed upon him, "to prophesy to my people Israel." This prompts the question, "What does it mean to be a prophet?"

Very often we think it is the essence of prophecy to foretell the future. While it is true that prophets warn of the things to come if their message from God is not heeded, they do not necessarily see, that is, have mystical visions about the future. A good example of prophecy in our own day, one that is very relevant to the on-going conflict over the HHS mandate, is the prophetic nature of Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Humanae Vitae.

Not being a seer, Pope Paul did not look into a crystal ball or receive a mystical vision of what would happen once contraception became cheap and readily available. Rather, knowing fallen human nature, he was able to trace out the natural consequences. Addressing the consequences of the widespread availability and use of contraceptives, Pope Paul asked that we
consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife (par. 17)
The Church continues to issue these same kinds of warnings in the in face of many supposed "advancements," like the development of more advanced weapons systems and certain kinds of bio-technological endeavors that violate the inherent dignity of the human person. The Church also warns against the kind of arrangements and de-regulation that led to and continue to fuel the worldwide financial crisis that has the effect of concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands, which culminates in the privatization of gains and socialization of losses, and is indicative of a form of unchecked, greedy, crony and crisis capitalism that benefits the few at the expense of the many and is especially harmful to the poorest of the poor.

In his annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia back in 2008, which year marked the fortieth anniversary of the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, Pope Benedict XVI concisely summarized the prophetic character of Pope Paul VI's magisterial pronouncement, which flew and continues to fly in the face of the world's reasoning, which is instrumental, even as regards the human person: "the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sex as a consumer good, the future against the exclusive claims of the present, and human nature against its manipulation."

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