Sunday, July 5, 2015

Live prophetically

Readings: Ezk 2:2-5; Ps 121:1-4; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

You'd think with one of my three favorite passages from the New Testament apart from the Gospels (2 Cor 12:7-10- the other two are Romans 12:1-2 and Phil 2:3-11) as one of the readings for today it would be easier to post a reflection on our readings for this Fourteenth Sunday if Ordinary Time, but it is not.

It is important to note in our passage from 2 Corinthians that Paul actually quotes our risen Lord as saying to him, "power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). Do we believe this? Do we live this way? Are we ready to live lovingly and joyfully contra mundi, not expecting to be lauded, let alone supported, or even understood? While living for the One who made us and redeemed us is the path to sanctification (i.e. becoming "like" Him) is an utterly good, truthful, and when done in the correct spirit (the spirit borne of authentic love for God and neighbor), beautiful way to live, it requires great courage, great faith, and deep hope in the One who was not well-received in his hometown of Nazareth upon His return.

Flannery O'Connor once averred, "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd." These days the truth will make you more than odd, it will often and increasingly make you an object of opprobrium. While being a disciple of Jesus does not necessarily make this any easier, it makes it understandable. Preceding the words "power is made perfect in weakness" in the Apostle's citation of the risen Lord are these words: "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Cor 12:9).

You want to be "prophetic"? Our current cultural, social, and political climate gives us a prime opportunity to be prophetic. This is not just true with regard to bearing witness to the truth about marriage being the conjugal union of a man and a woman- though this may be the prime and most readily available way right now to be prophetic in virtually any Western milieu- it is true about economic justice both at home and abroad (everyone should care about the plight of Greece, a classic case of the strong oppressing the weak), matters of race, as well as war and peace. For those of us who live in the U.S., Independence Day weekend strikes me as a wonderful opportunity to reflect deeply on these things and speak prophetic words and to live prophetic lives precisely because we love our country and our fellow citizens. We must be relentless because the God who loves us is relentless. Our relentlessness is not coercive, brutal, or mean-spirited, even when our witness is not well-received. True charity is the fruit of hope, which is the flower of faith.

There was probably no more prophetic papal act in recent times than Bl. Pope Paul VI's promulgation of Humanae vitae. A prophet does not necessarily, or even even usually, call down God's wrath on people. Prophets do not typically see into the future like a fortune-teller. A prophet is one God uses to call His people back to fidelity to the covenant. What the prophet usually does is simply point out the natural consequences of refusal to heed the prophetic message.

As we see in our first reading from the Book of Ezekiel, it is no business of the prophet whether the ones to whom s/he is sent pay heed to or reject the inspired message, which is never something new, novel, or simply made up. Primarily, the way to assess the authenticity of any claimed prophecy is by its continuity with what God previously revealed, keeping in mind that all God had to reveal culminated with the coming of His only begotten Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ (Gal 4:4-5), who established His Church on the rock foundation of faith as expressed by Peter on the road to Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13-20). The sole business of the prophet is to bear witness to the message with which God has entrusted him/her.

As Catholics we often reduce our sacramental language to so much flowery rhetoric. For instance, we often hear that when we were baptized we were constituted members of Christ's royal, priestly, and prophetic people. In fact, according to the Rite of Baptism, after an infant or child who has not yet reached the age of reason is baptized and just prior to being anointed with sacred Chrism (looking forward to Confirmation), the celebrant says, "As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life." What does this mean?

If you desire God's kingdom you must seek to make it a present reality by living in this odd way. But you can't expect to receive an earthly reward and this must not make you bitter, or rob you of your joy. The joy of the Lord is my strength.

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