05 July 2015

When I am weak, then I am strong

14th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

God sends a prophet to His people, “rebels who have rebelled against [Him].” These rebels – “hard of face and obstinate of heart” – have turned away from their Father, shaming themselves in disobedience and bringing upon themselves the inevitable consequences of their sin. Ezekiel, the prophet God sends, knows that he will not be welcomed among his kin. He knows that his proclamation to the nation – “Return to the Lord!” – will not be well-received. This is an old problem. Some six-hundred-plus years after Ezekiel's death, Jesus will say, “A prophet is [honored] except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” Why is a prophet sent by God honored everywhere except in his own native land? For a prophet to speak with authority, for him to be heard by God's people, he must be truly “other than” those to whom he preaches; that is, a prophet must be “set aside” in his family; somehow an alien in his own hometown; an odd sort of animal in the ambling herd. Familiarity breeds contempt. Who listens to and believes a prophet who grew up in the neighborhood just like everyone else? If you and I, the Church, will be prophets/witnesses sent by the Father to invite the world to return to the Father, we must be “set aside,” “other than,” the odd animals in the ambling herd. But being the ones set aside is dangerous business, even a deadly business.

I'll just say it straight out: nobody likes a prophet. Think about what prophets are sent to do. Basically, God looks at His people and sees them being disobedient – they are stealing from the poor, cheating on their spouses, killing one another, ignoring their religious obligations, worshiping foreign gods, and just generally pretending they do not have a covenant with the Lord. Seeing all this, the Lord calls out a prophet, someone who is given a vision of the His plan for humanity and sent to the people to tell them that they are on the wrong path. Every prophet has an amazingly simple mission: go among the sinners, call them sinners, and warn them that the clock on God's wrath is ticking. Repent or face the consequences. Over and over again, we know, that God's people (that us, too) have treated prophets with contempt. When we aren't ignoring them, we kill them. If we don't kill them, we dismiss them as religious-nuts. The reason we do this is obvious. Where the prophet sees sin, we see personal choice. Where he sees disobedience, we see liberty and license. Where he sees injustice, we see opportunity. He says we're wicked; we say we're just doing our own thing. He says we're had better repent or else; we say, “Don't impose your religion on me, buddy!” 

Scripture reveals that prophets are unpopular b/c they show us what we could be with God while we are busy being nothing more than what we want to be without God. Now, lest any of us here think that being a prophet is optional for Christians, let's set the record straight: it isn't. If you are baptized, you are a priest, a prophet, and a king. You offer sacrifice for others in prayer; you hold yourself and others up to God's plan for humanity; and you work in service for the cause of justice. Being a prophet is not optional for us. It's who we are. And it means being the odd animal out when the herd is heading toward the cliff. It means standing up and yelling, “STOP! We are racing to our deaths! Turn around before it's too late!” The men and women of Nineveh heard Jonah and turned around in time. But Nineveh is the exception to the rule. In every other case of prophetic intervention, the herd stampeded on, ignoring the warning signs, and God allowed them to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. Foreign invasion. Exile. Enslavement. And death. Every time the nation turned its face from God and worshiped its own will in violation of the covenant, God gave them a warning and a way out. And every time – excepting Nineveh – the nation chose to spit in God's face and do its own thing. Decline and destruction followed. 
We are prophets. Not b/c we are especially moral. Not b/c we have some special vision from God. Not b/c we are uniquely attuned to hear God speak. We are prophets b/c we have directly experienced the power of the Father's mercy to free us from sin and death. We are prophets b/c we have directly experienced the divine love that binds all of creation in being, and we have sworn to be witnesses to that love in word and deed. We are prophets b/c we strive to be perfect as our Father is perfect, to be righteous not self-righteous, to be bearers of His invitation to the world so that no one is left out of the heavenly party. And as prophets, we will not be particularly popular. In 2015, not many already in the Church and many who are, not many are eager to bend an ear to hear the truth of God's plan for humanity, a plan for our eternal happiness. You don't have to search long or hard to see or hear the depth and perversity of this nation's disobedience. From abortion to Wall St greed; from racism to consumerist waste; from lawless politicians to a scandalous Church; from the desecration of marriage to murder, we are a nation in rebellion against God. And He sends His prophets out into the nation to bear witness. Not to His anger and wrath. But to His abiding love and boundless mercy.

We are prophets. What do we say? What do we do? Many Catholics believe that last week's Supreme Court ruling imposing same-sex “marriage” on the nation is just the first step along a long road of trouble for Christians. That's not true. The Court's decision is actually one of the last steps on that road. That decision was as inevitable as the rising sun and long in coming. We can imagine the last few steps: polygamy, incestuous marriages, and, finally, the elimination of civil marriages altogether. Actually, we don't have to imagine them. All three of these have already been proposed. What do we say? What do we do? As witnesses to God's abiding love and boundless mercy, as prophets, where do we go? We say what we have always said. We do what we have always done. We go where we have always gone. We speak about Christ and his sacrifice for sinners. We do the good work that God has given us to do. We go to work, to school, to church, out in public, anywhere we have ever been before. We are prophets, and prophets bear witness. We cannot bear witness with our lips sealed shut in fear. We cannot show others the miracles of faith while hiding from uncomfortable confrontations. We cannot abandon our works of mercy and at the same time claim to be witnesses to mercy. Nothing has changed for the Church or her prophets. Nothing. Our Lord still reigns. And our work remains unfinished.

There is a dread temptation poking at us right now. I've heard it. I've felt it. The spirit of despair is urging us to just surrender to the inevitable victory of sin, and run off to a mountain somewhere. This is not an option for us. Too many out there need us. Too many out there have yet to experience all that Christ has freely died to give us. Yes, get ready for some hatred, some foul language flung our way. Get ready for some lawsuits and fines. Prepare yourself to lose some friends. I've lost several already, including my two best friends of 25 yrs. We will not see the kind of persecution that our brothers and sister are experiencing in Syria and Nigeria. Americans are too well-armed! Perhaps you believe that none of this affects you. Well, you don't have to join a side in this Culture War. You will be drafted. The spirit of rebellion that pervades our nation will not tolerate fence-sitting. There can be no neutrality. If you don't care, you will be made to care. As a friend of mine says, “Acceptance is no longer enough. You must approve and applaud. Anything less is hatred.” As so many US bishops have made perfectly clear, Catholics cannot and will not approve or applaud this latest step along the road to national destruction.

To prepare yourself as a witness to God's abiding love and boundless mercy, remember Paul writing to Corinthians, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
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