The theme of this year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In is “Prophetic lives: Caminando juntos (Walking together).”
This idea is taken from the words of Oscar Romero, the former archbishop of San Salvador who was murdered while saying Mass in 1980. During the brutal civil war, he advocated for the protection of the poor in his country, but was left unaided by the Church and foreign governments.
“Cada uno de ustedes tiene que ser un profeta./ Each one of you has to be a prophet.” –Oscar Romero
Again, the delegation of Georgetown students was asked to contemplate this quote and the conference theme in anticipation for the IFTJ. Is God calling us to be prophets? And what does that role entail?
I look to Isaiah, Jesus, and Muhammad for guidance in answering these questions.*
All three men were misunderstood in their own era, their words ignored or marked as radical or blasphemous. Isaiah urged the Israelites to turn back to God, but they continued in their sinful ways.
They were outsiders whose positions on issues of God and faith were ahead of their time. Muhammad called for greater increased women’s rights in a world dominated by men, and in polytheistic Arabia he pushed the notion of a single God.
They challenged the status quo, made a community among the ostracized of society, and criticized unjust social structures and practices—always at their own peril and sacrifice. Jesus broke social norms and dined with sinners, ultimately losing his life.
Though their messages were shunned during their own time, looking back, we realize that God was speaking through them, that their messages—which God wanted us desperately to hear—were taking root. Today, billions of people of many faiths revere these men, seeing them as perfect or near perfect examples of a servant of God. Isaiah, Jesus, and Muhammad may have had a difficult time seeing the fruits of the religious and social progress they initiated, but their work was crucial to beginning the process of change.
So can we too be prophets?
Admittedly, we are not as holy as Christ or the founder of Islam, but despite this we are called to fill a similar role. When we see injustice in our communities, we must be the mouthpiece for God, challenging the social, religious, or political status quo. We may be misunderstood, ignored, or even persecuted by those in our society who are afraid of change, but we know that we have the support of God, who is working through us.
Being a messenger of God requires a lot of humility, and a willingness to learn and question. We cannot assume that we as humans can find the solutions to problems on our own. Rather, we must listen to God and discern his message, using our talents to share that message with the community that needs to hear it. We are only the vessel through which God works; in order to be filled, we must empty ourselves. (I take this idea from the prayer, “A Hallowed Space to Be Filled” by William Breault, S.J.)
I see my work as a writer, journalist, and advocate as prophetic work. I believe God has charged me to promote a message of understanding between religious groups, particularly Muslims and Christians, during a time when demonization of “others” is deemed acceptable and goes unchallenged by many. I realize that my positions regarding religion are considered radical by many in my community, and that many are unwilling to listen. Yet I know that my work is important and necessary. “God has created me to do Him some divine service. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next,” as Cardinal Newman says in his famous meditation. I am confident that though I cannot see fully the effects of my labor—and never will—God has called me on this path of prophethood.
During times when I’ve doubted what impact I can make, Oscar Romero’s famous prayer has encouraged me to continue, and reminded me of the divine significance of my small contributions.
The Prayer of Oscar Romero
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Questions for reflection: Do you see yourself as a prophet? What message has God given you to convey?
Additionally, you may be interested in a recent article by Jesuit James Martin about how we can follow the example of the saints.
*My Biblical history is lacking so if I made any mistake in recounting the lives of the three prophets please let me know.