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Prophecy, Passion, and Fire

The 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In your baptism, you were anointed priest, prophet, and king. These are the three functions that Christ fulfilled in his ministry, and because you are baptized and joined to the life of Christ they are your functions that you live out as a Christian. The scripture readings focus on the function of prophet, so let me suggest a very basic question: what does it mean for us to be prophets?

Don’t think prophet in the sense of predicting the future, but in the sense of the Old Testament prophets. The prophets of the Old Testament were people who had dramatic and powerful experiences of who God is, and from that encounter become compelled to proclaim His message at times when Israel was starting to become unfaithful. Their role was to tell the Chosen People to look at what they are doing, how they are living… and to point out that nothing good will come from it. And I want to stress that word “compelled” – the prophets spoke from an intense understanding of God that shaped them to the point that to not speak of Him would be as impossible as denying themselves. The Word and its proclamation became part of their being. Jeremiah, the prophet of our first reading, is remembered for being a prophet despite his reluctance in the first place! One of the most famous lines from that book is Jeremiah crying out, “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” Jeremiah knew that to remain silent after what he had experienced would be not just difficult, but would become a burning desire that he could not endure.

And so Jeremiah speaks out to Israel as a prophet, even knowing that it also would mean persecution. Why persecution? Think of anything you have ever been passionate about. What happens when you run into people don’t already have that passion? They resist. Even if you eventually sway them and they start to understand your excitement, it doesn’t happen without that resistance. For the prophets of the Old Testament, resistance normally meant being thrown out of the community, being physically attacked, and even death. Hence the first reading, the princes wanted to put Jeremiah to death and managed to have him thrown into a cistern.

So in our religious tradition, a prophet is someone so aware of the presence of God that he or she must share it with others, even in the face of resistance and persecution. So with this image of what it means to be a prophet, let’s turn now to Jesus Christ and our Gospel today. One of my scripture commentaries suggested that Jesus had probably been meditating on Psalm 69: “It is for you, O God, that I suffer taunts, that shame covers my face, that I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons. I burn with zeal for your house and taunts against you fall on me.” You can imagine him praying with this psalm, knowing full well that it describes the prophetic life and expresses what he himself was experiencing, and eventually turning to his disciples and saying: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Our Lord burned with love for the Father. In that experience, he realized that he wanted the hearts of every person to know that zeal and that love. He wanted to set hearts of all the world on fire, and that not a single moment would delay it. Will you delay it? Christ desires that you become a prophet. He wants you to experience a love that burns in you heart, a love that is so intense that it is literally experienced as a searing, burning, piercing flame in your chest. You possess this love already through your baptism, all that is left is for you to claim it.

We must claim it. Because speaking to you now in that prophetic role I know that many of you were not here on Thursday for the holy day of obligation. The blazing fire of passion that Christ desires to see on this earth, a Holy People aware of their God and rejoicing in His presence… that was not in these walls like it should have been. I say this to myself as well because I did not do much to stir up that fire of devotion, and there is still so much I need to pass on and teach you just about mass itself. But I am compelled to tell you: your faith must be set on fire, so move in that direction without delay, even if only one small step.

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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.

Published inHomilies