A prophet boldly speaks God’s message. A prophet prepares for persecution. Homily for 2/3/2019

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19;  1Cor 12:31-13:13;  Lk 4:21-30

The Old Testament is full of unwilling prophets: Moses complained about a speech impediment, Gideon tested God several times, Jonah tried to run away, and Jeremiah protested that he was too young. But the Lord reassured Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jer 1:5). His direct calling from God was to be a prophet. Now, prophecy isn’t primarily about foretelling the future, because a prophet first and foremost speaks the Word of God faithfully. That’s why the prophets often began their message with: “Thus says the Lord God…” A prophet is called to speak God’s authentic word to His people. So why were these men so unwilling? Well, the prophets had to deliver a challenging message regarding sin, judgment, and repentance, and so they always faced opposition. Persecution: that was the ultimate sign of being a true prophet from God. The Church links our first reading with today’s gospel because of the similarities between Jeremiah and Jesus. Both men were consecrated from their mother’s womb; both were likened to a sacrificial lamb; both were rejected by their own people; both called out the injustices of the religious leaders and were eventually condemned to death. As Jesus said, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” By calling Himself a prophet, Jesus links his destiny to that long line of Old Testament prophets who suffered rejection or violence because of the unpopularity of their message.

            Now what’s all this got to do with us? Well, at our baptism, we were given the privilege and responsibility of being prophets. We were anointed with oil and sent to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ. God called us and appointed us, like Jeremiah—before we were born—to be a prophet to the nations. A prophet speaks the word of God, regardless of the consequences, even if it makes people uncomfortable. For example, John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, and he was so passionate about his message and the conversion of Herod that it cost him his life. Jesus Himself is neither driven—nor intimidated—by public opinion. The people drove him out of the town and wanted to hurl him down headlong. But “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.” Being a loyal Christian and speaking God’s message today is a risky business. In other countries it might mean physical death or bodily harm. In our own country, it may mean threats, lawsuits, or being ridiculed on social media. Certainly it means being misunderstood. But persecution is nothing new for a follower of Christ. And so, especially in a world where Christian values are unpopular, we’re called to encourage those already on the right path and to call out those who are straying. So don’t be afraid to stand up for the truth. As St. Peter said, “Always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within you, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1Pet 3:15). Why did God choose and call us to be prophets? Not because of any accomplishment on our part, but only out of sheer gratuitous love (cf. CCC218).

            A good person can’t stand idly by while injustice prevails, such as when the innocent are slaughtered or mistreated. Today, there’s a profitable business in killing the vulnerable—the executives at Planned Parenthood make a killing in more ways than one—and this enables them to support candidates who perpetuate the slaughter by legislation. Human trafficking and the pornography industry also come to mind as injustices that produce financial gain at the expense of the innocent. So we can never remain silent in the face of evil, even if we might lose a friend or fear being labeled. We need to cultivate firmly-Christian convictions—always with love and respect for others—without encouraging sinful behavior. Ultimately, whatever we do must be done out of love, not to win an argument or to support a political party. Like Jesus at Nazareth, we must be charitable, forgiving, and honest, aware that persecution will be our lot. St. Paul said that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” To love means to will the good of the other. And at the root, that means their eternal good. We may have to say something difficult like: “It’s because I love you that I can’t attend your wedding outside the Catholic Church or support you living with your boyfriend. It’s because I love you that I’m putting filters or limits on technology.” Why do we go to great lengths to try to blend in with a culture that’s so hostile to Christian values? We permit violent video games in the home and then wonder why so much violence occurs in public. We watch TV shows or movies that are harmful for the soul, and justify them because they’re artistically impressive. Our culture hates Christianity and yet we try to appease it by our silence, or worse, by becoming complicit in the evil. But eternal salvation is worth infinitely more than public opinion, a pat on the back, or a five-star parent rating. Nor can we let ridicule derail us from our quest for personal holiness and following the commandments of God.

            Satan has already been working overtime against human life this year—he knows his time is short. After all, January was the anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. And less than one week the New York legislature not only passed but also “celebrated” a sickening abortion law, the Virginia General Assembly proposed a similar law here. The bill rightfully failed, but how horrific that this bill was even introduced in the first place! As Bishop Burbidge rightly noted, “Abortion of a baby in the final stage of pregnancy borders on infanticide.” Not that an earlier-term abortion is any less staggering, but our own governor alluded to the fact that he might be willing to stretch the border even further. We’re seeing an open hatred and disrespect for the inherent goodness of every child. Our bishop continued, “The governor’s statement and this bill demonstrate how far abortion advocates are willing to go in taking the life of a precious child.” At this critical moment in our Church and society, I echo our Bishop’s call “for all the faithful to advocate for the right to life of all people, including the unborn and those children whose lives are at risk even during the process of birth.” We have inform our elected officials where we stand on these issues, and how every human person has the right to life. I encourage you to read the Bishop’s full statement and to subscribe to www.vacatholic.org for more updates.

            If we consider ourselves followers of Christ, then we should courageously prepare for persecution. In fact, we should be ready for the same things that Jesus faced: rejection, persecution, death . . . but then resurrection. Without giving in to sarcasm, hatred, or self-righteousness, we must recall that Christ’s message is exactly that, His message. Therefore, it’s not for ourselves alone, nor should we fear personal rejection, because they’re not rejecting us, but Christ Himself. In the end, “Prophets speak out about injustice, yes—but in the hope that all will repent and be saved by receiving the love of God” (John Bergsma). Or as Jesus Himself said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). We continue to seek the mercy of God for ourselves, our legislators, and all people in need of conversion.            

In this time above all, God needs you and me to be His prophets, to be bold in speaking the truth, even if other people have closed their minds to it. Remember, we’ve been empowered through baptism, and we’re strengthened with the Eucharist to be heralds of the good news that Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead because of his tremendous love for us. Love is a Person, Jesus Christ! And even He chose to become a tiny baby in the womb of His Mother, Mary. By sharing in Christ’s prophetic duty, we become His living witnesses by our example of faith and love, and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise. Will this mission be easy? The tide rises higher, and the threatening clouds grow darker, as the devil’s work goes on around us. Christian values and even common sense itself are under attack. But remember God’s promise to Jeremiah, and by extension, to each one of us: “But you, stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account as though I would leave you crushed before them . . . I have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass . . . They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord” (Jer 1:17-19).

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