May 14, 2023 Essay: Quiet Prophecy

May 8, 2023

Christian discipleship calls all of us to be prophetic, to be advocates for justice, to help give voice to the poor, and defend truth. But not all of us, by temperament or by particular vocation, are called to civil disobedience, public demonstrations, and the picket lines, as were Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan, and other such prophetic figures. All are asked to be prophetic, but for some, this means more wielding a basin and towel than wielding a placard.

There is a powerful way of being prophetic which, while seemingly quiet and personal, is never private. And its rules are the same as for those who are wielding placards and risking civil disobedience. What are those rules, rules for a Christian prophecy?

First, a prophet makes a vow of love, not of alienation. There is a critical distinction between stirring up trouble and offering prophecy out of love, a distinction between operating out of egoism and operating out of faith and hope. A prophet risks misunderstanding but never seeks it, and a prophet always seeks to have a mellow rather than an angry heart.

 Second, a prophet draws his or her cause from Jesus and not from an ideology. Ideologies can carry a lot of truth and be genuine advocates for justice. But, people can walk away from an ideology, seeing it precisely as an ideology, as political correctness, and thus justify their rejection of the truth it carries. Sincere people often walk away from Greenpeace, from Feminism, or  Liberation Theology, from Critical Race Theory, and many other ideologies which, in fact, carry a lot of truth because those truths are wrapped up inside of an ideology. Sincere people will not walk away from Jesus. A prophet must be ever vigilant as to whether he or she is drawing truth from the Gospels and not from some ideology.

 Third, a prophet is committed to non-violence. A prophet is always seeking to personally disarm rather than arm, to be, in the words of Daniel Berrigan, a powerless criminal in a time of criminal power. A prophet takes Jesus seriously when he asks us, in the face of violence, to turn the other cheek. A prophet incarnates in his or her way of living, the eschatological truth that in heaven, there will be no guns.

Fourth, a prophet articulates God’s voice for the poor and for the earth. Any preaching, teaching, or political action that is not good news for the poor, is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, to “widows, orphans, and strangers” (biblical code for the most vulnerable groups in society). As an insightful axiom has it: Nobody goes to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.

Fifth, a prophet speaks out of a horizon of hope. A prophet draws his or her vision and energy not from wishful thinking nor from optimism but from hope. Christian hope is based on God’s promise, a promise that was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus; it is based on the belief that we can entrust ourselves to love, truth, and justice, even if the world kills us for it, knowing that the stone will always roll back from the tomb.

 Finally, a prophet doesn’t just speak or write about injustice, a prophet acts, and acts with courage, even at the cost of death. A prophet is a wisdom figure, a Magus or a Sophia, who will also act, no matter the cost in lost friends, lost prestige, lost freedom, and danger to his or her own life.  A prophet never seeks martyrdom but accepts it if it finds him or her.

This last counsel, I believe, is the most challenging one for “quiet” prophets. Magi and Sophias are not renowned for being on the picket lines. But there is the challenge. An authentic prophet can discern when to park the placard and bring out the basin and towel – and also when to lay aside the basin and towel and pick up the placard.

— Ronald Rolheiser OMI

On Monday, May 22nd at 7 PM, in Wallace Hall and by livestream, Fr. Rolheiser will present Quiet Prophecy – Another Kind of Protest for Social and Religious Transformation.

Scripture tells us that, as he grew, John the Baptist “grew strong in spirit.” What if you are the type of person who is “accommodating in spirit”? What if you are not the type of person who can openly protest things and openly challenge others? What are your prophetic gifts? How can your quiet gifts challenge the world and the church to be more just, loving, and faith-filled? Is there another kind of “protest” that is powerfully prophetic?