Second of a two-part series
Contrary to most popular thought, a prophet does not foretell the future and is not necessarily a chronic protestor. A prophet is someone who speaks with God’s voice. Accordingly a prophet is someone who radiates love, not alienation, whose voice attracts even as it upsets, and whose words offer, at the same time, deep challenge and deep consolation.
Hence we recognize the prophetic voice, God’s voice, whenever we hear words that challenge us to what’s higher, what’s truer, what’s more noble, what’s more loving, what’s more ideal. We recognize the prophetic voice in words like these:
“That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the most horrible truth and be shattered.
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I still believe that people are really good at heart, I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
“In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I will be able to carry them out.” (Anne Frank’s diary, July 15, 1944—the third last entry in her diary)
“Those who propound an image of the human person that would be different from that which has been developed in the church and preserved in the Western tradition, seem today to make human weaknesses a fundamental principle, and to declare that this is a human right.
“Christ, on the contrary, taught that each person has above all a right to his or her own greatness, a right which transcends him or her. This is in fact where our true dignity really appears… In Christ each person has a right to such greatness. And through Christ the church has the right to the self-offering of such a person through the gift through which one gives all of oneself to God in order to become a servant of all.” (Slightly redacted from John Paul II, in his Nov. 17, 1980 address to the seminarians at Fulda, West Germany.)
“There comes a time in every person’s life when the choice is clear: stand up for what you believe in or die! If we don’t stand up because we are afraid of death, or of losing our job, or of losing our health, or friends, or position, or prestige, or anything whatever. If we refuse to take a stand in order to prolong our life—then it doesn’t matter whether we are 20, 28, 36, 47, or 60, we are dead. And even if we live on until we reach 80 or 90, we have just kept on breathing, not living. We die at the moment when we do not stand up for what we believe in.” (Martin Luther King, in his famous I have a dream speech. Redacted slightly.)
“In any situation dominated by fear, you need people who have died before they die, people who, before death, already live the resurrection. In this is fear, timidity, overcome.
“Too often, however, we just want to survive. Then we choose not to die, but that is not the same as choosing to live. We need to die before we die to live in the freedom of the resurrection already now.” (Mary Jo Leddy, in a retreat given to the Oblates in Saskatoon, Sask., May, 1989.)
“The future belongs to those who have nothing left to lose.” (Herbert Marcuse)
“The church is, of necessity, a community of resistance. But resistance flows from a sense of joyful praise and loving celebration. We are first called to be a community of celebration, celebrating the life we are called to, the life given us to share together and then to give away for the sake of the world. We become a community of resistance. But before that, and through that, and even after that, we are a community of praise and celebration.” (Jim Wallis, The Call to Conversion, Page 135)
“Only when a person has fully attained his or her own spiritual identity can he or she live without the need to kill, and without the need of a spiritual doctrine that permits him or her to do so in good conscience. You have to take the time alone to become yourself, to face yourself in your fundamental reality, and to peel away the accretions of mediocre or false values imposed by society, ambition and self-interest. Only then, as the overflow of such contemplation, can you find your truth and your reality.” (Thomas Merton, quoted by J.H. Griffin, in Follow the Ecstacy, Page 200)
“You command the Gospel by living it: the first change of all is exacted of yourself. You declare peace, as others declare war…
“Dorothy Day embraced this design, be it noted, not in order to bring political or economic changes. Not in the first place. The first place was sacrosanct, and existed independent of political gain or loss. She would live in such a way, and speak and write from the bottom, not because it made sense in the world to do so (it made no sense, she would be vilified and despised for it), or because it converted the world (it converted very few), or made human tragedy somewhat less likely.
“None of these. Her politics stemmed from a command that she heard proclaimed from someone of no time or place, of every time and place. Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor in spirit, what you do for the least of these, you do for me.” (Daniel Berrigan, To Dwell in Peace, Page 70)
And, in a bad redaction of Rudyard Kipling, “If you can sense deep truth in these quotes, when all about you they are settling for something less challenging… you are listening to today’s prophets.”