December 1998

Teresa Kennedy is a Presentation Sister.
She shares her thoughts on the Prophetic Church

What images do the term "prophet" conjure up for us today? Is it of an Old Testament figure like Jeremiah, Amos or Ruth who called for conversion, challenged the evil and wrongs of their time and above all were seen as mouthpieces of God? Or is it of Jesus the great prophet who was not afraid to speak out on behalf of the "untouchables" of his time? Or perhaps it is an image of a modern day prophet like Tutu) Romero or Mandela? Whatever, the important question is: how do we, in our everyday lives, fit into, or respond to, prophecy in the Church today? Because the Church is a community of people who try to model themselves on Jesus, the ultimate prophet, it will always be, of its nature a prophetic church. and we are that church at this time!

Prophets are defined as "those who are aware of an immanent God at the heart of all human experience". The theology they preach is one that results in social action characterised by compassion, justice and respect for all varieties of human experience. When one examines the lives of Old Testament prophets it is always "Yahweh" who speaks and this Yahweh is a God who sets his people free. What is freedom and who needs to be set free today? I am sure we all know people who are trapped or imprisoned in themselves; in an unproductive way of life; in addictions of one kind or another; in greed; in brokeness, loneliness or simply the rat-race of life. Wherever there is injustice or dehumanisation of individuals, there is work for the prophet.

Aware of being called to share God's freedom with all, such a person seeks out areas of human experience where lack of freedom has given rise to exploitation, manipulation and injustice, naming them and calling for social action to overturn them. Compassion is a key ingredient in this action. The prophet is not just the one who speaks out but one whose life and action identifies them with the marginalised: oppressed and broken. Their loneliness and pain become the loneliness and pain of the prophet; their struggle for life and justice the struggle of the prophet. To shelter the homeless, walk with the drug-user, lighten the burden of the poor or oppressed is to be a prophet in today's materialistic society. Prophets of old were stoned because their very presence suggested action challenge, newness and conversion. The stoning of today may be verbal!

As Christians we are called to make our own the proclamation of Jesus: the spirit of the Lord is upon me he has called me to bring Good News to the afflicted to proclaim liberty to captives to let the oppressed go free....

The gift of prophetic consciousness is not one that removes the recipient to a separate or distinct role, or requires a kind of part-time engagement with it. It is pervasive and finds a channel of communication in whatever way of life or work a person does. The prophet is called to be; to stand with; to speak out and reach out wherever there is an absence of God's freedom, love and justice: that is wherever there are dole queues; human beings sleeping rough; rejection of those struggling to regain human dignity in the fight against drugs; alcohol or abuse; demoralising or degrading treatment in the workplace or simply embarrassingly low wage-packets.

There are those also who glimpse the hidden wonder and beauty of God 's human creations who have been broken or shattered by life, and who seek to call that beauty forth by attacking all that has spoiled it. Developing sensitivity, confidence and a sense of well being in oneself and others, is very much the work of the prophet tool

To respond to the gift of prophetic consciousness in any age is not easy. Prophetic indignation brings upon the prophet the anger and resentment of smaller individuals unwilling to be the full light of prophetic truth and challenge. Those who find the prophet's witness a challenge or too threatening of their own position's often resort to rejecting or isolating such a person(s) hoping that lack of encouragement will remove the source of unease. The "powerful" in Church and State can be successful outwardly in this kind of action too! Others will question "who" and dismiss the prophet as Jesus was dismissed in Nazareth. Still others will find refuge in worship that has no overflow into mercy and compassion - a worship that is unaccompanied by freeing social action. Prophecy and discernment go hand-in-hand: discernment comes from being attuned to the Lord in life and prayer.

The prophets' work is done only when there are
no more homeless people
no more men and women working on the streets
no more drug-users
no more racists attacks
no more oppression of the poor
no more religious intolerance
no more children abused
no more hate
because people's lives are full of justice and joy.

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. Material Copyright © 1997 THOMAS (Those on the Margins of a Society)
THOMAS is an integral part of Catholic Welfare Societies, Registered Charity number 503102