Saturday, June 24, 2023

The form of prophetic witness: Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Saint John the Baptist Admonishing Herod, Mattia Preti, c. 1688

Dear brothers and sisters,

The readings last Sunday called us to reflect on the priesthood to which all of us who are baptised are called. Today, the readings clearly lay out the form of what it means to give prophetic witness to Christ, who is the Truth. Don’t forget that the prophet is the second of the three offices – that of priest, prophet, and king – that Christ holds, and into which all of us are baptised.

In the acclamation to the Gospel Christ tells us:

The Spirit of truth will testify to me, says the Lord; and you also will testify

Christ can confidently tell us that you will testify because he promised the Holy Spirit to us, given to us at baptism and confirmed at chrismation. His grace, therefore, is always with us.

Later, in the reading from the Gospel according to Mathew we hear Christ command us to proclaim:

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

What we hear, what we have been taught, we must proclaim, and proclaim it loud. We have to scream it even, perhaps not necessarily at the top of our voices, but most certainly in our daily lives, in all the little things that we do. This proclamation is not, however, without its consequences as the reading from the Prophet Jeremiah informs us:

I hear the whisperings of many:

'Terror on every side!

Denounce! let us denounce him!'

All those who were my friends

are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

'Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,

and take our vengeance on him.’

Speak the truth, stand up for it, and you are most often the lone voice. On the contrary, the persons you counted as friends may be the very ones willing to denounce you!

The first verse of the psalm today offers us in unpleasant detail the fate that meets most prophets:

For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face.

I have become an outcast to my brothers,

a stranger to my mother's children

Because zeal for your house consumes me,

and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.

While it may be possible to go against one’s friends and stand against them, it is not easy to rupture oneself from one’s own family for the sake of the truth, and God knows, how often we have to compromise ourselves because are called to stand with our family members in the name of familial solidarity even while they are engaged in the most unconscionable of acts. I can think of the way in which so many Goan families will justify the way in which they appropriate the property of others, whether their relatives, or sometimes their landlords. Or the way in which they prevent reconciliation in a marital disagreement because to do so would be to fall on the wrong side of their family.

But the psalm also communicates quite clearly what impels the prophet: zeal for the house of God.

To those of us who, for zeal of His house, suffer insults and shame for the sake of the truth, Christ has words of encouragement for us:

Fear no one

Jesus can tell us not to fear, because as the psalm reminds us:

…the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.

Jesus, does not shy away from telling us that we may die. On the contrary, he tells us not only that we may die, but suggests that we may have our bones broken in the process:

do not be afraid of those who kill the body

These men and institutions may kill our body, but they cannot kill our soul, because it is God who is the master of both body and soul, and he will salvage our soul and return to us our bodies on the day of judgement. And it is this terrible day of judgement, the day of the wrath of the Lord that the princes of the earth will have to watch out for, for this is the day when they will lose both soul and body. From the first reading we hear:

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.

In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

As an aside I might point out, that this is what hell is, my dear brothers and sisters, a lasting, unforgettable confusion. When we are separated from God, by our own choices, and we do not now know where to turn, this results only in confusion, as we turn from one false god to another: money, power, pleasure. This is hell, brothers and sisters, to not know God intimately, and to be divorced from Him, whether now on earth, or eternally in the life hereafter.

To return to my main point, however. It is to prophetic witness that we are called. Each and every one of us who have been saved by Christ. Not one of us is exempt from this call. We are all called to testify, to shout loudly in the marketplace and be witness to the truth, and do so regardless of the costs to our bodies because what we should really be concerned about is our souls.

The question is, how many of us, and how often do we give prophetic witness? I can assure you that if we do not keep Christ at the centre of our lives, and trust completely in him, then we will be simply unable to give prophetic witness. believe you me, it is because this prophetic witness has been missing for so many decades that Goa – but not just Goa – has been turned into the putrid mess that it is. There is a stink in the air, and it is not only because of the way in which the Smart City processes have messed up the city!

Despite his warnings about the sufferings the prophet faces, I do not believe that Christ is asking us to make any large, or imprudent, gestures. He is asking us to be prophets in our own little ways in the small actions of our lives. Start small, protest and call attention to the truth, in the daily decisions we may take. Call for your families to return properties that they may have unjustly taken, to reconcile with a spouse unfairly rejected, correct your parents and friends when they disobey traffic rules. Instead of watching, or worse recording on your smart phones, stand up for the man being assaulted in the street. Be willing to risk the wrath and anger, the discomfort, of your families, and friends, in these small matters, and I assure you that when the time comes you will begin to get the strength to take on larger risks and not feel the pinch.

To be a prophet we require to do two things: first we need to develop intellectually, to be able to see what is just and unjust. Once we are done with this mental activity, of determining what is just in any given situation, we now need to act on our realisation physically. Fail to do either of these tasks, and we are not prophets, and if we are not prophets, then my dear brothers and sisters, I doubt we are Catholics, and I wonder about the judgement we will receive on the last day. I will leave you with this caution from Our Lord Jesus Christ

do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

(A version of this homily was first preached at the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosario, parish of Caranzalem on 25 June 2023.)

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