All three readings focus on the challenge of being a prophet in our world. Jesus speaks of himself as a prophet. Like his prophetic predecessors, he critiqued the culture of his time and called for change. The Jewish authorities saw him as a threat to their power. The people of his own town refused to recognize him as a prophet. They pigeon-holed him.
Jesus’s way of living challenged the oppressive systems of his day. He spent time with people who were excluded, living outside the protection of the places of privilege, comfort and entitlement. He walked with the vulnerable on the Jericho road. He went outside the city walls, where the lepers and those possessed by demons were forced to live. He was among the exploited multitudes. He attacked the pharisees for their obsession with purity and tithing. Looking through the lens of his surroundings, he became a fierce critic of the prevailing power structure. He spoke to the conscience of the world.
And the Spirit of God was upon him.
Jesus’s life has inspired many to find their prophet voice. When we read the signs of the times, we are called to become prophets of change. At our 1992 General Chapter there was a recognition of the ever-growing crisis of the planet earth, where all life, including human life, is rapidly being destroyed. And the prophetic voices emerged, and the vision evolved. An Tairseach now preaches a change of perspective of our place in the world. It defies the present world order and challenges all of us to live in a cooperative and sustainable way. The Spirit of God comes upon us when we allow the signs of the times to challenge us.
And the Spirit of God comes upon us.
Sister Lory Schaff taught at an all-white, middle-class girls’ school in uptown New Orleans. It was in the 1960’s. Efforts to desegregate the school failed. Sr. Lory decided it was time to leave the school. She moved into a very low-income African-American neighborhood. The educator became the student, and there was a whole lot to learn about racism and poverty. She saw the devastation – the substandard housing, the devaluing of lives. She felt the pain of brokenness around her. She got to know the people, and with the help of her new friends and other religious women, they formed a community and founded Hope House. It was a place of compassion where people got help with basic needs. They drew strength from each other. They organized and protested the injustice and racism that was part of their daily experience. And when the power structures were not happy, Lory and her cohorts knew that God was on their side. St. Paul writes in today’s second reading, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” or as my people in prison say, “God does not ask of us more then we can bear.”
When Lory entered into the sufferings of others, the Spirit of God came upon her, and the prophet was ignited within her and within those who were part of her life.
Sometimes the Spirit calls us to places we would rather not go. Three Adrian Dominican sisters challenged U.S. nuclear arms policy several years ago. They entered a military base – Minuteman3, Silo N8 – in Colorado and in a prayerful ritual symbolically disarmed the nuclear
missile. They were arrested and sentenced to 40 months in prison. Sr. Carol Gilbert, one of the three, said in her statement before being sentenced, “I will continue being led where I would rather not go. I will continue to resist with every fiber of my being, so that not one child will ever ask, ’Why were you complicit?”’ “I don’t fear going to prison. I don’t fear loss of freedom to move about. I don’t even fear death. The fear that fills me is not having lived hard enough, deep enough and sweet enough with whatever gifts God has given me.”
The demons are banished by light. And as the prophet Ezekiel writes in the first reading, “They shall know that a prophet has been among them.”
And the Spirit of God is upon them.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was not always on the side of the poor. In his early years as a bishop in El Salvador, he was considered a conservative. He did not speak up for the compesinos. In fact, he aligned himself with the dominant class. One of his priests, Jesuit Rutilio Grande, was an outspoken advocate for the poor. Romero took him to task; they had many conversations. When Grande was killed for his stance, Romero experienced a conversion. The Spirit of God took hold of him, and he became a strong critic of the dominant class. His words and actions led to his assassination. Before he was killed, Romero said, “If you kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.” And he did.
Like Jesus, he called his people to another way. Like Jesus, it cost him his life. And the Spirit of God was upon him.
A few lines from a poem by Christy Kenneally are appropriate:
With such as these we can never be easy.
Without them we are lost in the limbo of day follow day. As surely as the desert voice,
the tongues of fire, the Christ Jesus
They too are a glimpse of God.
Rubem Alves in his book The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet gives us a wonderful image of a spider that speaks to the vulnerability of the prophet:
The spider is about to begin her work. She is sitting on a wall. She sees the other wall far away, and in between, an empty space. There is only one thing the spider can count on for the incredible work that she is about to start: a thread still hidden inside her body. And then, suddenly, a leap into the void and the spider’s work has begun. The spider is luckierthan we are; her body remembers what we sometimes forget – that she has within her the recipe for such an awesome event.
Let us just remember that the Spirit of God is within us.
Sr. Lilianne Flavin OP