02 January 2012

A plague of Prophets

NB.  If you listen to this Mass all the way through, you will notice that I messed up the offertory prayer.  For some strange reason I flipped to the propers for the Epiphany and read the opening collect.  I was 2/3 of the way through it before I realized that I had messed up.  Oh well.  Ecclesia supplet!

Ss. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (8.30 Mass)

As the early Church struggled to understand God's Self-revelation in the only languages they knew—4th century philosophical Greek and imperial Latin—three prominent figures rose to the occasion and provided believers with the means to glimpse into the nature of the divine: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzen, and Basil's brother, Gregory of Nyssa, the so-called Cappadocian Fathers. All three of these men left the Church with a treasure trove of writings that parse the delicate terms we still use to describe the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the life of holiness, and the general rules for monastic life. In every way that matters, these saints of the eastern Church were prophets for the Lord. They reached to understand divine revelation and put their understanding to work for the good of God's people. Today, we honor Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen by asking a question that has been often asked but rarely answered adequately within the living tradition: what does it mean for one of us, or all of us together to be prophetic? That is, if we are exhorted to be prophets for the Lord (and we are!), what exactly are we being asked to be and do? 

When the priests and Levites ask John the Baptist, “Who are you?” he answers enigmatically, saying, “I am not the Christ.” This is an enigmatic answer b/c they did not ask him if he were the Christ. He answers by telling them who he isn't. They ask again, “Well, what are you then? Elijah? Are you the Prophet?” He says, “No. I am not.” No fewer than three times does John deny being someone else; three times he says in effect, “I am not he, I am not that.” Aggravated with his obstinacy, they finally blurt out, “Who are you, then? What do you have to say for yourself?” John's answer defines what it means to be prophet of the Most High: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'” We have to notice here that John says that he is “the voice of one crying out.” He doesn't say, “I am a voice crying out” but “I am THE voice of ONE crying out.” In other words, John is claiming to be the voice of another, the voice that cries out what this other one wants cried out. Prophets surrender their voices to God and speak His Word in order to prepare the way for His coming. 

The Church is plagued by self-anointed prophets who speak on behalf of their personal agendas. Appointed to the role of prophet by nothing more than their private sense of urgency to fix problems only they can see, these voices no more speak for God or the Church than do those who hope to see Christ's work destroyed. Genuine prophets do not set themselves above the Church in order to light a revolution in their own image. Genuine prophets of the Lord cry out His Word within the Church in order to prepare us for His arrival among us. Genuine prophets of the Lord give their obedience to only one agenda: the necessity of repentance and forgiveness in our preparation for the coming of the Lord. God's Word must be heard and His saving works seen so that those who can see and hear will know the way to prepare for the consummation of His kingdom. As baptized members of the Body of Christ, as priests, prophets, and kings, we are vowed to both repentance and forgiveness, and we are vowed to speaking His Word and glorifying His saving works. Like Elijah, John the Baptist, and the Blessed Mother, we point toward the Lord, never to ourselves or our personal agendas, always toward the Lord, and announce His coming among us. To be a prophet is to cry out in the voice of another, the voice of Love Himself.

Follow HancAquam and visit the Kindle Wish List and the Books & Things Wish List Recommend this post on Google!


  1. I notice a tendency on your part to lead with the historical-theological. You might want to think about that.

    Your second paragraph, reworked, might be a more inviting and appealing entry: it's personal and it's focussed on the reading. You could add the history and doctrine, etc after you have the congregation's attention.

  2. USM, yeah, it's weird. . .b/c of my various locations during this time of year in the past, I've never preached the Christmas Octave to Epiphany readings as they appear in the lectionary...so I've been a bit stumped about how to present them. I'm toning down the rhetorical flourishes b/c they sound good and sometimes make a point but mostly they are just me having fun. Also, I'm determined to teach when I preach. . .so, the evolution continues!

    Thanks for your feedback.

  3. By all means teach when you preach. You're a Dominican. IMHO, it's just a matter of timing and placement.

  4. USM, oh, I agree. Starting out with a theological-historical approach isn't the best way to keep people's interest. However, I always watch the people for signs of disinterest and they don't seem bored. . .or, maybe, being good southerners they are just really, really good at being polite for Father's sake!


  5. If you have a high percentage of nerds as my parish does, your approach is fine, and in fact is preferable! Leading off with a story or illustration can lead some people to tune out too. I am one of those. We have a priest that just puts me to sleep and one that is just riveting. Fr. Sleepinducer leads off with illustrations, Fr. Boltuprightinmypew does not condescend to us in any way.