“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God.” John 1:29-34
We open the liturgical year with readings that give promise and hope to all who hear prophets like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. So too, on Monday, our nation celebrates the prophetic voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
To my mind, this prophetic tradition helped forge new paths to God and harnessed unique spiritual forces.
A prophet is a herald of a new age or an interpreter when social or religious practices are in dispute — but most witnesses.
As we hear in today’s first reading, Isaiah describes the call of the Suffering Servant, a light to the nations. I’m old enough now to recall first-hand Martin Luther King’s impact on the American conscience and how his words challenged a country to serve all our fellow citizens, and seek the ways of justice and peace.
Today, I’d like to talk about this prophetic tradition since it opens us for us our scriptures, and point to Christ and the cross as its apex. Let’s talk about popes and prophets.
Have you seen the new film, “The Two Popes?” Directed by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles and written by New Zealand’s Anthony McCarten, the movie is a fictional account of the personal relationship between Pope Francis (Jorge Bergoglio) and retired Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger).
Behind the closed doors of the Vatican, we glimpse into the separate lives of these two “men of God.” By golly, the superb casting of Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and the role of Pope Francis with Jonathan Pryce is impressive. It reveals to me that the real pope could take a few days off, and have Jonathan Pryce handle some of Francis’ exhausting public audiences.
Here’s the point. One led the life of an activist parish priest in neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, and the other was a University scholar, member of the Vatican Curia, and part-time musician. In the movie, together, Benedict and Francis watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina. Of course, this is a fictional adaptation.
Given today’s NFL playoff games, I don’t know whether or how each would pick between Aaron Rogers or Jimmy G?
To put it bluntly, both popes, the activist Francis, and Benedict, the traditionalist, betray their world views that at times come to the surface when each would not want painstaking notice from the worldwide audience.
In other words, preaching and prophecy have their limitations, especially when the woman in the crowd attempts to grab onto you, or your book endorsement makes for a torrent of unforeseen headlines.
Often, prophets are activists who seek new directions to find remedies for pressing issues. On the other hand, traditionalist want to preserve core beliefs for all time. Both impulses are valid, and both notions require careful listening. Remember, great arguments, if they are great — never find a full or complete solution.
For Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus — as in the words of Martin Luther King, a true prophet is a “drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” Otherwise, the noise of our time, especially now with the clutter of cellphones and endless chatter, may filter out a prophet’s compelling message.
So, here’s a final thought or question? Have you ever met a prophet?
I believe yes, I have. Of course, I would want to include our young prophets who I have not met, such as Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Prize winner, or Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg.
For the sake of the prophetic tradition, I would list those rooted in the gospel message. Two people, two prophets both from the city of Philadelphia, I have been privileged to meet.
While working on the Pope’s Francis’s 2015 visit to Philadelphia, I met Shane Claiborne, the spiritual force behind “The Simple Way,” an interfaith community in the spirit of Francis of Assisi — whose purpose is “to cultivate a Philly neighborhood that we can be proud of.” Go to: https://www.thesimpleway.org
His recent book, “Beating Guns: Hope For People Who Are Weary of Violence” is featured in an extended essay by Nick Tabor of the Washington Post, entitled “The Evangelist,” published on January 6, 2020.
The City of Brotherly Love has another prophet in Father Chris Walsh, who I interviewed for my television series Sunday to Sunday, the preaching journey.
We taped this program in early October at his parish Saint Raymond of Pentafort Church, “Where God is Glorified & His People are Sanctified.”
To view this episode of Sunday to Sunday with Father Chris Walsh, go to:
Shane Claiborne and Chris Walsh, two inspiring “minor prophets” of our time – whose voices are worth listening to – indeed, “drum majors for justice, peace, and righteousness.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.