So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. (2 Cor 5:20)
In this continuing exploration of what it means for us penitents to live out our baptismal calling of priest, prophet and king, I want to focus on the second office, that of prophet. Just as there is a substantial difference between the priestly office of the laity and the sacramental priesthood, so too is there a difference between the prophetic office of the laity and the traditional biblical meaning of the word prophet. In both cases, the prophet is given a message. In the case of the baptized Christian, I believe that message may be condensed into one word: hope.
Those holy souls whose merits have gained them eternity in heaven no longer have any need for hope; every longing and desire is fulfilled in ways we cannot imagine. They exist in perfect communion with a perfect community of perfect love. There is nothing left to hope for. For those of us left on earth it is a different story. We are deeply in need of hope, a commodity that seems to be in shorter and shorter supply these days, and “these days” are far from over. Terrorism, wars, unrest, natural disasters, instability in the world economy, all these things are causing a crisis of hope in the world. The world is in need of prophets of hope. It is time for the baptized to embrace their baptismal call to be “ambassadors for Christ” as the above Scripture passage says.
Our beloved Pope John Paul II was himself a “witness to hope”. And his worthy successor also embraced this message in his encyclical: Spe Salvi (SS) – Saved by Hope. Certainly Pope Francis is a sign of hope in the world, especially for those on the periphery. I have chosen just a few excerpts from Spe Salvi to explore what means to be prophets of hope as penitents in the world.
“Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Of course he knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were “without God” and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future.” (SS)
Even though 2000 years have passed since St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, his words are as relevant to our day as they were to his—perhaps even more so. In this paragraph, Benedict XVI has hinted at an eerie parallel to “a dark world facing a dark future”. But, as a prophet of hope himself, he does not leave us in the dark.
“Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.” (SS)
Ah, here is a hint of what it means to be prophets of hope. It is echoed in 1 Peter 3:15 “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” We know that what we experience here on earth is only temporary, that we are made for eternity. It is this faith that allows us to live hope-filled lives on earth, in any circumstance. Our faith in Jesus Christ gives meaning to every moment of our lives, joy or sorrow, celebration or suffering. That is a message worth passing on!
“To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.” (SS)
We have tasted the goodness of the Lord! How often have we taken this for granted! We should pray for the opportunity to speak about our personal knowledge of God with those God sends us. I think it is important to be patient in this and rely on God’s timing. As a priest once told me: “Let it happen, don’t make it happen.” If you are willing, God will send you souls. A friend calls these “Divine appointments.” When it happens, you will know. Then let the hope you have in Christ Jesus be a beautiful gift you pass on at the appointed time.
It is important to keep in mind that a darkened world will probably not welcome prophets of hope. Our Lord himself prophesied about this in Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” We must be ready for whatever comes, good or bad, praise or persecution. It is this life of prayer and penance that strengthens us for our mission. It allows us to discard what is unnecessary and focus on what is important—the will of God alone. Whether praise comes or persecution, it should be all the same to us as long as God’s will is served. As we read in 1 Peter 2:9 “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praise’” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” At all times, in all circumstances, we announce His praises.
Here is one last quote from Spe Salvi that I want to leave with you, a beautiful image given to us by the Holy Father, an image well worth pondering as we consider our call to be prophets of hope.
“When you (Mary) hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history.” (SS)
This is one more way we can take Mary as our model as we strive to live our call to be prophets of hope.