Why Prophets Aren’t Popular

WeeklyMessageFebruary 3, 2013
Marcellino D’Ambrosio, PH.D.
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The prophets of the Old and New Testaments show us that sometimes love demand that we speak truth that people don’t want to hear. The mass readings of the 4th Sunday in ordinary time cycle C tell us that just because we are God’s spokespersons and messengers, we shouldn’t expect honor, respect, and popularity.

“In polite conversation, never bring up politics or religion.” That’s the advice I was given as a child. And it’s good advice, too, if your main goal is to make sure everybody likes you. Politics and religion are risky because they involve deeply held convictions, and if you happen to challenge these convictions, you get the same reaction that a dentist gets when his probe hits a nerve.

But politeness at any cost is not God’s style. The reason for this is that God is love, and love is more concerned about the welfare of others than with one’s own image. So if someone is on a seemingly pleasant canoe ride down a lazy river, love cares enough to warn the passengers that Niagara Falls is up ahead. “But everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.” Opinions don’t change the fact that going over the falls in a canoe will kill you.
Religious and moral choices are like this. They set one on a course that leads either to a safe harbor or over the falls. Sex outside of marriage, intoxication with drugs and alcohol, honoring Jesus but rejecting the authority of His Church, all these choices have very unpleasant, even deadly, consequences.
So God sends prophets (the Greek word means “spokesmen”) whose role includes warning people that they are headed over the falls. You’d think people would be grateful for the heads up. But often people respond to bad news by killing the messenger.

Why is this? Because the idea that we are basically “good people” whom God ought to appreciate, and that our beliefs and lifestyle are at least as good as all others–these are comforting illusions. When a prophet calls all this into question, we find this threatening and very uncomfortable. If the prophet is right, this demands change, and change always means pain, and we don’t like pain.

Jeremiah and Jesus both are dealing with people who think that they are “good people.” After all, they are God’s chosen people. They offer sacrifices. God is on their side. So they respond to Jeremiah’s warnings by eliminating the source of pain. They throw him into a muddy cistern and he narrowly escapes with his life. Jesus in Luke 4 eludes the Nazarenes when they want to throw him over the hill, but ultimately gives his life for those who cry out “Crucify him!”

So if this is how people are going to respond, why bother to rock the boat? Why stick your neck out? Because people have a right to the truth, whether they end up heeding the truth or not. The prophet’s responsibility is to speak God’s word as clearly and convincingly as possible. What people will do with that word is not under his control. Mother Teresa was fond of saying that God does not require us to have success; he requires us to be faithful.

At first glance, Jeremiah did not have much “success.” His listeners totally ignored him, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, and Israel was taken into exile. On Good Friday, it did not look like Jesus had been successful either. But 300 years later the Romans who crucified him were now worshiping him, and the lives that had been forever changed were too numerous to count.

We who have been confirmed have been given a share in Christ’s prophetic anointing. If our goal is to be everybody’s buddy, we are going to have a hard time being faithful. The word that God commands us to share is sometimes comforting, sometimes disturbing. We must get over our fear of offending people and love them enough to tell them the truth. Of course, there is always the question of the right place and time. But if no place is the right place and the right time never comes, we can be sure that we are allowing fear of other’s opinion to get in the way of love. Love is not about being sentimental. The love of God, spoken about in 1 Corinthians 13, is tough love.


Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
February 3, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is difficult to accept any prophet—someone who comes along with a new way of thinking or a radical idea which undermines our established way of thinking.
However, we do realise that often the greatest scientific breakthroughs have come because a particular researcher is prepared to “think outside of the box.” It is the same with religion. The Old Testament Prophets were usually ignored or vilified by the religious establishment because they had a new perspective on God’s love.
We cannot be following every new and passing trend otherwise we would soon be lost. So the main difficulty is in discerning the true prophet from the false one. And so we can easily understand how religious authorities instinctively reject all prophets.

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Hometown Prophets
Today’s Gospel reading begins with the last verse from last Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus is in his home town synagogue, or what would be the equivalent of a synagogue in the first half of the first century. He reads from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….” and then concludes that “these words are fulfilled in your hearing.” The people are at first enthralled by Him. They did not expect this. When it was time for the reading of the scripture and reflection, one of the learned men, usually a scribe, would get up, proclaim the scripture, and then make his comments. But the carpenter’s son? The people had heard that Jesus had performed miracles in other towns and villages, but those could be stories. This acting like He was a learned man was too much for them. And worse still, He pointed the scripture to Himself. They rejected Him because He was too familiar to them. They knew His father, Joseph. They knew His family. They led him to the edge of a cliff intending to throw Him off.

Spiritual Combat
Bottom line: Like the boy, Jeremiah, God calls us to spiritual combat

Our readings today speak about spiritual combat. Every person faces this battle – the war between good and evil. God tells Jeremiah, “They will fight against you but not prevail against you, for I am with you to deliver you.”

The ones fighting Jeremiah are short-sighted men, men who had forgotten God. In a deeper sense the ones fighting the prophet are demons, the evil spirits who control men’s hearts. We are talking about spiritual combat.

Sometimes the work of evil spirits is evident. For example, the people surrounding Israel practiced child sacrifice. Jeremiah and the other prophets opposed the ritual killing of small children – and they warned the Israelites against that horrific practice.

Enoch and Elias are in the “Atmosphere”…They will return to battle the Antichrist
I have a fascination with Enoch and Elias. Enoch (or Henoch) is the inspiration for the apocalyptic work called “1 Enoch” cited by Saint Jude in his epistle. Elias (or Elijah) is considered to be the Old Testament founder of the Carmelites and the greatest of the Old Testament prophets before Saint John the Baptist. Best of all, neither of these prophets ever died!

Scripture only knows two men who never experienced natural death. (The Blessed Virgin Mary did experience death before her glorious Assumption, as explained in this post.)

Liturgy Teaches Us to Hear God’s Voice, Pope Reflects
Pope Benedict XVI told thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 27 that marking Sunday as a day of rest and engaging in the liturgy can teach us to listen to the voice of God.
“Before we can speak of God and with God, we need to listen, and the liturgy of the Church is the ‘school’ of this listening to the Lord who speaks to us,” he said during his weekly Angelus address.
Exploring the day’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, the Pope recounted how Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath.

Man’s role in writing Sacred Scripture
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus.

In the opening lines of his Gospel, St. Luke gives us a clear indication of the active human role in the writing of Sacred Scripture. Though the Bible is truly the word of God and not merely the words of men, yet it is also correct to say that it is really and truly the words of men and not solely the word of God.

Why we call him “The Angelic Doctor”
The Common Doctor, St. Thomas is often referred to as “Aquinas” after his hometown of Aquino. His most beloved title, however, is the “Angelic Doctor” – and it is this designation which inspires the greatest devotion to the saintly Dominican theologian.
Why is St. Thomas Aquinas properly called the “Angelic Doctor”, the “Angelic Thomas”, and the “Angel of the Schools”?

Why Bother With Church?
When I was a high school chaplain I had a conversation with some nice parents who attended a Protestant church of some sort. They were distressed because their tenth grade son had announced that he no longer wanted to go to church. When they asked him why he said, “I love Jesus in my heart. Why do I need to go to church?”

I asked the parents what their reply was and they rather stammered and stuttered that they didn’t really have an answer. The kid had stumped them.

Holy Apostles – Setting a Trend for Catholic Schools
Editor’s Note: This article describes a new program, free course offerings, and how a small Catholic college approaches it differently than larger universities. If you are at all interested in higher education in Catholic theology, this article will be welcome news. A new, free, course is scheduled to begin on Ash Wednesday. Be sure to read to the end.

How to Enroll in the Angelic Cord of St Thomas Aquinas for Holy Purity
A few years ago at the March for Life, some of my students and I were enrolled in the Miraculous Cord of Saint Thomas Aquinas. St Thomas received a miraculous cord around his waist form angels and he never agains suffered lustful thoughts or actions. Yesterday on the radio program and on the blog, I spoke about how I wear the Cord or Girdle of Saint Thomas Aquinas. I received an amazing amount of feedback via phonecalls, email, and social media about this. People really want to learn more about this wonderful sacramental.

A Brief Treatise on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit
There was a wonderful excursus on the Church as the Body of Christ in the Sunday readings. Would that we might better appreciate the diversity of gifts in the Church today instead of being fearful or dismissive of gifts that we appreciate less. As a pastor, I have come to appreciate that people find their way to God in many and diverse ways and that when the Church permits diversity we ought respectfully rejoice in even in the ways we do not personally prefer.

The Four Pillars of the Christian Life
I and twelve other pastors, have been meeting recently to embark on a period and plan for renewal in our parishes. which focuses back on the fundamental mission of the Church, and of our parishes, and which seeks to restore a kind of back to basics approach to Church life.

For too often many parishes are reduced from being lighthouses to clubhouses; from being thermostats which set the temperature of culture, to thermometers that merely record the temperature; from being places where Christ is central, and it is his wedding, to being places where Christ is merely an invited guest at our wedding feast.

If There Is a Pope . . .
Well, there is. What follows from that fact? First of all he is not an isolated figurehead or a religious figure who is far away in another country. That would be the Protestant view and the common cultural view in the United States. Rather in the Catholic Church, Christ “rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. ”(Vatican II) In the Church, we speak of the mystery where, in reality: “The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are [the] profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion.”

Mystical Theology and the Truth about Humanity
Last year, the International Theological Commission released a document entitled Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria. The commission distinguishes scientific theology from mystical theology, and recognizes a kind of secondary role for mystical theology in theological research. In doing this, the commission is bringing back into the theological discussion a kind of contemplative knowing that modern thinkers have often held in disdain. There is after all a prejudice against prayer living in the abstract idealism which drives mainstream culture to nihilism. The Commission is inviting us to consider that the mystical knowledge given in contemplation is no anachronistic or sentimental exercise. On the contrary, the life of the Church suggests that it is the only way forward toward what is genuinely human and fully alive in this world.

The Senses of Scripture
Periodically, folks ask about whether we are supposed to read the Bible literally.
The Church does require a literal interpretation of biblical texts. But that does not mean what most Americans imagine it means. It does not mean we have to believe, for instance, that the universe was made in six 24 hour days, or profess faith in talking snakes. Rather, by the “literal sense”, the Church means we must read the text looking for what the author intended to say, the *way* he intended to say it, and distinguish from that what is incidental to what he was saying. That’s the literal interpretation. And getting at it is trickier than we might suppose, since the inspired authors were not, in fact, 3000 years stupider than us, but were endowed with brains and a genetic complement identical to ours and an *extremely* subtle and sophisticated manner of communicating theological and spiritual truths and a complex symbol system that we often misunderstand. That’s why we need the Church. Therefore, the Church also says we are not at all bound to read it *literalistically* as though it was always a newspaper account. So, for instance, CCC 390 says:

How Would St. John Bosco Teach the Narcissistic Child
Imagine for a moment that you’re a Catholic school teacher and you suddenly realize that all of your students have a very high value of themselves. And, upon realizing this fascinating phenomenon you also realize that the majority of yours students do not associate this high value with the image the carry as children of God. Gasp! For those of us who have had the pleasure of studying and applying the educational system of St. John Bosco (Preventive System), this sudden realization may not sound so daunting.

A reader wants to know what to do…
…about casual anti-Catholicism. He writes:

Like many Catholics, I have found myself in a situation where many of the people in my circles of friendly acquaintance are *not* Catholic or practicing Christians; they are decent people and will certainly go to the wall to help people they like, sympathize with or share principles with, but they are inevitably products of a secular or lapsed-Christian worldview and see nothing wrong with the Culture of Sex and Death that I have to refuse to support or agree with. As a result, what I often find myself enduring in their company is nothing so grand as active persecution (I will not use that word for this in the face of what the Copts are suffering in Egypt), but rather a constant flow of a certain benignly dismissive contempt–none of it personally meant and little of it consciously deliberate, but varying in its effect on me from squirming discomfort to intense pain nonetheless.

Two Women are Behind Legalized Abortion in America: Now Both of Them Want it Reversed
In the debate over abortion in the United States, two women’s names appear more frequently than any others: Jane Roe and Mary Doe, the plaintiffs in the companion 1973 Supreme Court cases that legalized abortion in the country.
With the 40th anniversary of those two cases – Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton – this month, news media is already filling up with retrospectives from leaders on both sides of the issue about the past 40 years and the state of the abortion debate.


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