Readings for this Sunday: on speaking with a prophetic voice
Jer 1,4-5.17-19; Ps 71; 1 Cor 12.31-13.3; Lk 4,21-30
Penultimate Sunday after the Epiphany
Dn 9.15-19; Ps 106; 1Tim 1,12-17; Mk 2: 13-17
Give thanks to the Lord, his love is forever
1) Foreground on the voice, the prophet, and on the Word, Jesus.
Today’s Liturgy passages, the story of Jeremiah and the experience of Jesus in the Gospel (in the Roman Rite), highlight the vocation and the work of the prophet who speaks about the life of man according to the plan of God and its realization.
Therefore, I think that it is useful – as foreground – to remember that the word prophet derives from the Greek προφήτης (pronunciation: profétes), which is a word made of the prefix προ- (pro, “before, ahead”, but also “for”, ” in place of “) and the verb φημί (femì,” to speak, to say “). Literally, it means “one who speaks before, ahead of” or “one who speaks for, instead of”, both in the sense of speaking “publicly” (in front of listeners), and of speaking “ahead” (anticipating the future).
It is equally useful to know that the Hebrew term that designates the prophet, “nabi“, can mean both “he who is called” and “he who speaks”. In this double meaning is inscribed all the sense of the prophet’s mission: a called one that becomes a spokesperson, a servant of the Word of God. Moreover, the prophet is not simply called to speak in the name of God, but to live his love becoming a prophet of the Heart of God that it is mercy.
The prophet is not the biblical variation of the fortune teller because he doesn’t aim to communicate the events of tomorrow putting himself at the service of the curiosity or of the need for security of mankind.
“The essential element of the prophet is not to predict future events; the prophet is the one who tells the truth because he is in contact with God. It is the truth valid for today that naturally also illuminates the future. Therefore, it is not a matter of predicting the future in its details, but of making present at that moment the divine truth and indicating the path to take”. (Joseph Ratzinger, Interview with Niels Christian Hvidt, 1997).
This is why Christ is the definitive and eminent prophetic revelator (cf. Hebrews 1: 1-2). He not only leads us to God through the Word and the Law, but takes us in himself with his life and his Passion, and, with the Incarnation, makes us his Mystical Body. This means that, in its roots, the prophecy is present and continues in the Church, the royal, priestly and prophetic people of God (cf. Lumen Gentium, 12).
2) A spokesperson and the Word.
Christ was truly a prophet different from the previous ones. He is different from Jeremiah too (cf. I today’s reading), to whom the New Testament alludes showing the numerous correspondences between him and Jesus. Like the ancient prophet (Jer 11,18) also Christ in his homeland of Nazareth is challenged by his own fellow citizens (Lk 4:29). The gentleness of Jeremiah (Id. 1,6) takes him closer to the Jesus described by Saint Luke. Like Jesus (Id 23), this prophet attacked the holders of religious power (Id 26,28) and the temple (Id 7,11 and Mt 21,13). They are both unmarried, and both love the simple and the pure at heart (Jer 35). Scourged (Id. 20,2), the prophet is led as a lamb (Id. 11.19) to his passion. Finally, even his lament over Jerusalem (Id. 32.28) could be juxtaposed to the cry of Jesus over the beloved city (Mt 23,37).
However, while Jeremiah was a spokesman carrying the Word of God and a messenger addressing those who had lost their way, Jesus Christ is the Word of Truth that is the Way that leads to life.
The happy message of the “prophet” Christ is Himself, flower that sprouts in Nazareth (= garden), wheat that becomes bread of life and mercy in Bethlehem (= City of bread), penetrating gaze that reads the heart, powerful voice that drives away devil, sweet word that enchants the children, lamb strong of grace and forgiveness that carries sin and absolves sinners.
The teaching of Jesus was fascinating and authoritative and people came to listen to him wherever he was, in a synagogue (see the Gospel of the Roman rite Lk 4: 21-30) or by the sea (see the Gospel of the Ambrosian rite Mk 12, 13-17).
What did Jesus teach? He taught God. Announcing the Good News he spoke of God, but he spoke of him in a new way. He spoke of him starting from his experience, from the experience that he himself had of God and of life. Jesus lived in God. He revealed a God who is a judge of mercy, a God who is near, always. Christ, the Man who lives among men to reveal the Heart of God is a prophet of happiness (cf. the Beatitudes).
3) Small, but not minor prophets.
If we, like Jeremiah, the loneliest prophet and among the prophets the most similar to Christ (at least in my opinion), respond to our vocation by saying to God the Father: “You seduced me and I let myself be seduced” (Jer 20: 7), we too will be prophets, maybe not great and not famous, but not less important. We Christians are called to be prophets – no matter if small or big – the important thing is that we are true witnesses of Jesus, the prophet of the Face of God.
If we stand before God with the simplicity of the children and the question of the poor, we will live the Gospel and we will see that other “little gospels” and other good news apparently not very relevant are, with Christ, among us: the goodness of our family and friends, and the beauty sown in the valleys and in the mountains, in the seas and in the forests. This too, like the lilies of the field and the water transformed into wine, is part of the Gospel, namely, of the happy News that Christ is the Redeemer of man and cosmos, and that his incarnation made the Word a presence of truth and of salvation.
The great painter Van Gogh used to say that he loved to watch the children in the cradle because their innocent eyes reflect the sky. If we become like children, we can have our eyes full of heaven and looks full of the Gospel. Then, we will see the evangelical presence of Christ in the great and small things of life, and we will become his prophets.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains ” The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office,” above all in the supernatural sense of faith that belongs to the whole People, lay and clergy when it “unfailingly adheres to this faith . . . once for all delivered to the saints, and when it deepens its understanding and becomes Christ’s witness in the midst of this world. “(CCC, n. 785).
Within this people, there are people who are called in a particular way to live this prophetic dimension in the daily life and in what that, more than history, seems to be dust of history: the Consecrated Virgins.
Marriage is a great value, but virginity is such a prophecy that, far from being against married people, it is primarily for them, for their benefit. It reminds them that marriage is holy, beautiful, created by God and redeemed by Christ, an image of the marriage between Christ and the Church, but that is not all. With a particular call, God calls these consecrated women to live in greater intimacy with Him and to be in the world the prophetic witnesses of this divine presence through virginity. It seems to me that this is one of the main tasks of consecrated virginity. And in affirming this I have the support of
– Saint Cyprian (ca 210 – m 258) who to the first Christian virgins wrote: “You have begun to be what we all will one day be” (Saint Cyprian, On the behavior of the Virgins, chapter 1),
– the Ritual of the Consecration of the Virgins that says: “The gift of prophetic and eschatological virginity acquires the value of a ministry at the service of God’s people and inserts the consecrated persons into the heart of the Church and the world” (from the Premises to the Consecration Rite, No. 2, 1970) and
– Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI who affirms: “Consecrated life is called to the prophetic witness, linked to its dual contemplative and active attitude. For the consecrated male and female it is in fact given to manifest the primacy of God, the passion for the Gospel, practiced as a form of life and announced to the poor and the last of the earth. ” The consecrated life is called to bear this prophetic witness, linked to its two-fold contemplative and active approach. Indeed, consecrated men and women are granted to show the primacy of God, passion for the Gospel practiced as a form of life and proclaimed to the poor and the lowliest of the earth. Because of this pre-eminence, nothing can come before personal love of Christ and of the poor in whom he lives… True prophecy is born of God, from friendship with him, from attentive listening to his word in the different circumstances of history” (John Paul II, Post Synodal Exhortation”Vita Consecrata”,84). In this way, the consecrated life in its daily experience on the roads of humanity displays the Gospel and the Kingdom, already present and active. (Benedict XVI, Homily for the Vespers – Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, 2 February 2011).
– Pope Francis teaches: “The distinctive sign of consecrated life is prophecy. a religious must never abandon prophecy. Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn (cf. Is 21:11-12). Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and the powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side” (Apostolic Letter to all consecrated people, 24 Novembre 2014).
- Ambrose to the Virgins
You who are one of those virgins who make the beauty of their body shine with a spiritual light; you who rightly are compared to the Church; you, I say, who keep watch during the night in your room: always think of Christ and hope every moment for his coming. Christ enters the closed doors and cannot fail to come because he promised it. Therefore, embrace the one you have sought; approach him and you will be illuminated. Hold him. Ask him not to leave immediately, not to go away. The word of God goes away quickly; it does not allow itself to be taken by the sleepy, nor to be held by the negligent. Let your soul go towards it. Follow the traces of the divine word because it passes quickly. […] She who seeks Christ in this way, can say: I embraced him and will not leave him anymore until I introduce him to my mother’s house, in the room of the one who gave me birth (Ct 3,4). Your mother’s house or her room is the most secret intimacy of your heart. Know this house and keep it clean. When it will be clean and your conscience will be pure from every stain, this spiritual house will rise up built on the cornerstone, and the Holy Spirit will dwell in her. Those who seek Christ in this way and pray to him, are not abandoned, but on the contrary, are often visited by him. (Ambrose, Virginity, 12-13)