The following are a series of four short homilies by an anonymous priest.
- ‘Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?’
What is a prophet? We have talked about this before… but for the sake of tomorrow’s homily, it is useful to discuss their ministry. Their ministry is three-fold.
There first ministry is to take the conduct within the society with which they were sent and place their conduct in relief to God’s Commandments. The Prophet Amos warns Israel and its religious leadership about stealing. The message of the Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah are against idol worship, but the vast number of other sins as well. Our Lady of La Salette appeared at La Salette and informed the local community stop taking the Lord’s name in vain and to get back to Mass. At our Lady of Fatima, our Lady appears for the sake of the whole world, and not just one community asking the people to ‘offend Our Lord God no more, for He is already much offended.’ At Akita, our Lady basically said, ‘you did not listen at Fatima, and here are the consequences.’ Over and above this, we see prophetic insight in the papal documents of Holy Mother Church: the two big ones that come to mind are Rerum Novarum warning of the dangers of socialism – and you and I would do well to take Rerum Novarum’s warning seriously – for the vast number of our young people these days fall very much into the socialist category. Socialism is anti-Catholic. The second is Humanae Vitae which needs no qualifier from me.
In most of these cases, there was a message for the local people as well as the whole world. In the cases of the Lady of Fatima and Akita as well as the papal documents, the message was offered to the whole world.
There second ministry… and believe it or not, this ministry is a distant second to their first ministry is to tell the people what will happen if they do change their conduct. Many of the warnings offered by a prophet are conditional. ‘If you turn back to Me’ – meaning God – ‘you will be allowed to live in peace in this place.’ To the King of Judah, Jeremiah conditionally prophesied, ‘if you surrender to Babylon, you will spare the nation and yourself; if you do not surrender, the Babylonians are going to stomp on you.’ Our Lady of Fatima stated, ‘if you do not stop sinning, a more terrible war will start during the reign of Pius XI.’ And Humanae Vitae, ‘if contraception is allowed to occur, there will be an increase in divorce and all manner of other sins against life and marriage.’ These are conditional prophesies: God does not desire nor predestine those events: man and woman choose them.
There is a third ministry, and this is the one that we see the least: simply predicting a future even that will happen period, end of sentence. Most of the prophetic Books prophesy of the coming of the Messiah… that was to happen regardless of what choices man made. From Fatima, ‘World War I would end.’ And from Akita, ‘since you did not pay attention to the message of Fatima, these things will occur…’ One of which we are seeing: bishop is fighting against bishop, and the other is some kind of warning about a chastisement, the likes of which the world has never seen.
One final statement is to be made about prophets. Be careful. Just as God sends His prophets, the devil also the floods the world with false messages… and even false apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is an old enemy trick: flood the world with messages so you cannot tell the real messages from the false ones.
Based on what little I have communicated here, is it any wonder that St. Steven asks, ‘which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?’
Given the events of the past couple of weeks, this homily is necessary.
‘There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem.’
Yesterday, I spoke of the three-tiered ministry of a prophet: (1) to reflect back the conduct within the society with which they were sent and place their conduct in relief to God’s Commandments. (2) To give warning in the form of conditional prophesies: for example: if you repent (a) will happen; if you do not repent (b) will happen. And (3), to outright predict the future: for example: the Messiah will come. And I used three examples of prophets: the Old Testament prophets, the Blessed Virgin Mary in authentic apparitions, and then papal documents.
Now, let me add one more thing into the mix. This is very important: often times, the authentic prophets were powerless to stop the people from doing whatever it was that they wanted to do. An example of this is the document Humanae Vitae. Another example is the message of our Lady at Fatima. Despite their absolutely astonishing accuracy, who listened? People hardheartedly continued on their way to damnation.
These prophets – for all their love of God, for all their prayers for the people, for all their teaching, preaching, and speaking, for all of their suffering and sorrow – were unable to halt the hardheartedness of the people. Not Amos, not Jeremiah, not Isaiah, not Pope John Paul II, not the one person in the cosmos who has the ability do so much for the people of God: the Blessed Virgin Mary. I mention Pope John Paul II because, much like a prophet, he courageously reflected the conduct of society back to the world: calling us the culture of death… and also because of the picture of him – still young, still vital, in his papal regalia – wailing.
Prophets seldom are able to do anything to halt the hardheartedness of man and woman. There are a few cases of success. We hold up the preaching of Jonah that converted the evil and vile Assyrians. I also hold up Our Lady of La Salette. At Our Lady of La Salette, we see one of those few times human beings paid heed to the warning of God, and disaster was averted by repentance. But most of the time, when prophets hold up the sins of the people, they are ignored or – as in the case of the Acts of the Apostles today – ‘There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem.’
So, what can prophets really do? Well, they do what they can: they help those who are willing to listen. They courageously correct. They resist falsehood. They pray, cry tears for sorrow over the loss of souls, and offer their lives to God as a holocaust to save souls.
What did the prophets actually accomplish despite persecution, despite people not listening to them? They encouraged those who wanted to hear, who needed to hear the Word of God: there was a way out of whatever mess the people of were in at that time or the mess people of our time is in. They reported that God was in control. They reported that it would be God who corrected the situation. They resisted falsehood. And finally, and perhaps more important than all of the rest of the message: the prophets told the people how to prepare for the day when God does take action.
Prophets have never been easy to hear. The prophetic messages are messages of correction and of a real need on the part of the people to repent. But this is what the authentic prophets did in the past; this is what the authentic prophets do now. God is telling that a correction to the mess we are in is coming. God is telling us God is in control and that the forces of evil will not prevail forever. And they tell us to be prepared and how to prepare. We have need to listen carefully to make sure we do not listen to a false prophet or false apparition or false teaching, and be mindful of authentic teaching.
‘Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.’
This is part 3 of the 3-day series. Tuesday, we spoke of the mission of a prophet: (1) to reflect the conduct within the society in relief to God’s Commandments. (2) To give warning in the form of conditional prophesies: if you repent (a) will happen; if you do not repent (b) will happen. And (3), to outright predict the future. Then yesterday, we spoke of the effectiveness of the prophet: more often than not, he had little effect on moving sinners to repent. He was successful in communicating to the people how to prepare for the Lord’s coming, and giving hope.
The prophet sought to give hope in the midst of God’s chastisement. And the chastisement usually ran along the lines of ‘okay, since you do not want to live by My [meaning God’s] rules within this Kingdom, the Kingdom will be taken away from you.’ First it was the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Romans… and even Christ said the Kingdom would be taken away from certain individuals and given to others who would live in holiness. And perhaps that is what is happening right now: since we do not want to live by God’s rules, God has put souls in charge who are taking away the very laws, gifts, and Graces needed for His Kingdom. But as always there, the prophets of our time tell us that there is Hope for tomorrow; as always, the prophets of our time tell us to stay steady and to follow God’s law; as always, the prophets of our time tell us God is in control, and that relief is coming… just as God promised that the Assyrian and Babylonian conquerors would eventually be crushed, and God would eventually restore rule.
But what you and I lose sight of is the time element: one of the things Sacred Scripture fails to do well is give you and I good sense of time and how much time elapsed. That is because the first readers would have already known the timeframes involved. For example, we have spoken in the past how the Acts of the Apostles starts about A.D. 33 and ends about A.D. 62 – so about 30 years plus or minus, but the text really gives the impression of a much shorter time span. That is no small thing. Many people have never given any thought to how much time the Acts of the Apostles covers. We have no sense of Advent – of the long, painful, bitter wait for the Christ to come. In Jesus own words, ‘many longed to see what you see, but did not see it; to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’ We have no sense of the duration of the siege of Jerusalem. We have no sense of how many people wanted relief from corrupt kings and political leaders, from corrupt religious leaders… and how many souls lived and died seeing the Good News far off into the future. Consider: we do not even have a good sense of when St. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, ‘here is the Lamb of God.’ After all, the Gospel of St. John tells us that Jesus already had had a few disciples by the time of the Wedding Feast in Cana – and that was before He began to gather His Apostles. Who knows: perhaps St. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus when they were both in their 20s… we have no sense of the time involved. Even St. Paul was clueless about the timeframe of Christ’s Second Coming: it was not until later that he began to realize the Second Coming was not going to happen immediately.
For three days, we have been discussing prophets and we now have the final piece of the puzzle. We do not know the hour of the coming of their prophecies. The prophesies of the craziness of our time began 400 years ago, and really began in earnest 160 years ago. Everyone presume that the prophesies of Fatima, Akita, Garabandal, La Salette are right around the corner. But always remember, man has always been an awful judge of God’s time frame. We could be decades, perhaps centuries away from the promised correction. Hear me: one would be a moron to not take heed because many of the warning signs are there. On the other hand, it is possible that we have literally decades of struggle ahead. Rather than try to interpret that the time frame of God’s actions, let us pay heed to the rest of the prophet’s message: repent, pray, resist attempts to corrupt the Faith, stand up… and most important: prepare for a struggle long in duration. Also of greater importance in the Prophetic Message: God is in control, and God will uphold you through this – whether the time is around the corner, or a very long struggle that will go beyond our lifetime.
I had absolutely no intention of dragging our discussion of prophets and prophecy into a day 4 homily. However, I received an e-mail from a very kind spiritual friend saying, ‘what [do] we do while we’re waiting in the unknown time frame?’ And it remains appropriate for us to continue our discussion, for today is the Feast of St. Damien de Veuster – the Apostle of the Exiled and Lepers. And let us face it, in the Church, in our world, orthodox Catholics are the lepers – the ones who in the mind of moderns are lost and simply do not understand. So the question has merit, ‘what [are] we [to] do while we’re waiting in the unknown time frame?’
And oddly enough – or perhaps not so oddly – the prophets give us an answer to that very question. From the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah we are told, ‘This is the contents of the letter which the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to… all the people who were exiled… Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles…: Build houses to dwell in; plant gardens, and eat their fruits. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. There you must increase in number, not decrease. [And her comes a sentence that probably stunned the people of God in exile, for Jeremiah tells them,] Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare depends your own.’ Solid advice if I ever heard it.
I would add to the Prophet Jeremiah’s words – if I might be so bold, as befits your station and your vocation in life, impart the orthodox Faith to your spouse, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Do not fret overly if you lose some to the world. Even the Great Saint Bridgette of Sweden had children fall away. But continue to pray for them, and admonish them as befits your duty, your vocation, and your relationship to them. If these children do fall away, do not bow to their sin and thus deny Christ – many parents now do that, and may well lose their souls in so doing. Always… always… always… with charity, remind them of Christ. If keeping the relationship alive means leaving their souls dead and on a path to hell, what good is your relationship to them as a loved one in Christ Jesus? And what will Christ say?
Live a life that is both visible and invisible: by that I mean live your Faith invisibly… but such that your peace is visible to the world, and when they ask why you are so joy-filled and filled with peace, tell them that is the fruits from your Faith-life in Jesus Christ. Draw them to Christ by your peace such that they will want the peace and joy that you have.
And do not forget to live. That is what St. Damian de Veuster did in his colony of the exiled; that is what people do. They form communities and live. And this is from God. So form communities in Christ who are like-minded and seek a True life in Christ that you might build one-another up, and strengthen one another. But live life as normal as possible. In all ways possible support the world around, and when supporting that world is not possible, never forget your charity mixed with your duty to pray for them, and uphold Christ.
If I might end with the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, modified ever so slightly, ‘Thus says the LORD: [after a time I will] visit you and fulfill for you my promise to bring you back… For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the LORD, and I will change your lot; I will gather you together from all the nations and all the places to which I have banished you, says the LORD, and bring you back.’
That is the message I have for you.