Finally! Better late than never, I guess. . .
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
History is prophecy fulfilled. While history looks back at events, prophecy looks forward to well-ordered possibilities. When possibility becomes reality, we see prophecy most clearly. Pushed by our history and pulled by prophecy, our lives unfold in the tidal forces of what has been and what what will be. (No doubt this is why we often feel dragged under and swirled to dizziness!) With the unchangeable past under us and the vast expanse of what could be above us, is it any wonder that we turn to prophecy for both hope and direction? And that is the purpose of prophecy: to give us a living sense that our existence is not futile, to provide our wandering hearts with a path to follow. What's revealed by God's prophets is not a detailed road map or a spiritual GPS, but rather a broadly drawn outline of His providential care for us. Acting with (or against) this plan, we help to unfold (or wrinkle) His plan, and in doing so, we benefit (or suffer) accordingly. Even the most cursory glance at our history reveals that blessing and prosperity follow obedience. And sin is its own punishment. When Jesus reads aloud the messianic prophecy from Isaiah and proclaims to his listeners that the prophecy is fulfilled in their hearing, he changes history. Not just the possibilities for the future but the hard-set events of the past as well. From the word of creation spoken over the void, the promise of the coming Messiah sweeps human history, informing, shaping, pushing, and pulling. What was fulfilled in their hearing? Everything that has gone before and everything to come: the arrival of the Word made flesh among us.
The arrival of the Word as Man is both prophecy and history. Foretold and remembered, Christ is delivered to God's people as the fulfillment of a promise made long ago. Looking back, as Jesus does in the temple that day, we can read the signs of his coming—the long awaited King, the servant who suffers for us, the Anointed who serves and rules as a priest and prophet. Think of a triangle, pointing upward. Now, imagine another triangle turned upside-down so that the points of the two triangles touch—an hourglass figure. The bottom triangle is our salvation history, the record of God's promises to His people, the ancient narrative of His word and deed among us. The top triangle is prophecy, what's to come for the Church while we strive to live as one Body. Where the points meet is the arrival of the Word made flesh—that day on the calendar when prophecy became history. Now, scroll the bottom triangle up so that the history of the Church is transformed into the Church's future as it passes through the Christ. Neither triangle is emptied, neither triangle is exhausted. There is always more history, always more prophecy. . .until the coming the Kingdom.
Now, who sits at the transformative point between the historical past and the prophetic future? Christ, certainly. But in what form? The Son of God took on human flesh to become like one of us. He suffered, died, and was resurrected to sit at the Father's right hand. Yet, he is with us still. He is still with us in the Eucharist, Body and Blood. He is with us still as the Church, the Body and Blood, constituted by her individual members. In the eternity of heaven, Christ sits at the transformative point. Within the history of Man, his Church occupies that crucial spot. For us, here on earth, progressing in spiritual perfection, it is the Body of Christ, the Church, that mediates our salvation history into our prophetic future. As we draw in more and more of our past through the Church, we bring to completion more and more of our future. Today—right here, right now—prophecy is fulfilled in our hearing.
If the Church is to be who and what she was created to be, we, her members, must be who and what we were created and re-created to be. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” Though distinct in our gifts and ministries, our purpose is singular. Though individuals talents, we collect our talents to produce a single work: to be the sacrament of Christ that shows the world his victory and makes that victory real. Each of us is a unique sign of Christ's love. And all of us together live as a Sign of his love. We contribute our treasures and take from the treasury what we lack. Without the Church our individual deficiencies remain deficiencies. Without our individual contributions, the Church is poorer and if the Church is poorer, so are we. And if we are poor, how can we contribute? Can you see the vicious circle? The cycle of vice that supplants the progress of virtue?
We can ask ourselves what prophecy was fulfilled in our hearing today? The better question is what prophetic word have we spoken today, what prophetic work have we done today that fulfills the Father's promise of eternal love? What have you contributed to the Church's treasury today that a brother or sister in Christ lacks? What talent are you hoarding? Are you withholding a gift that weakens the Church's ministry to shape a future in mercy and love? If we see ourselves as the collective mechanism whereby God's promises are made manifest in human history, what have we done, what are we doing, what have we vowed to do to be the healthiest, strongest, most vital Body that we can be? What is missing from the treasury that yourself lack? Do you wonder: who in the Church is clinging to the wealth I need to be who God made and re-made me to be?
None of us can claim to possess the strength of the whole Church by ourselves. But we all share in her weaknesses. If you find this to be an occasion for despair, hear again Nehemiah's admonition to God's people: “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”
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