Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mary: God’s Prophet in Every Age

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 27, 2009, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Numbers 11: 25-29.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-Sixth Sunday 2009]

What is a prophet?

In my experience, when people are asked that question, they normally respond by making some kind of reference to the predicting of future events, as if the primary mission of a prophet is to tell us what will happen next week or next year either in our personal lives or out there in the world.

But that's not true. That’s a false understanding of prophecy.

Biblically speaking, prophets were people who spoke for God in the present moment and primarily about the present moment.

At certain times they spoke messages of hope and comfort—at other times they spoke messages of rebuke and challenge, but always with respect to what was going on in “the NOW”!

Yes it’s true—they did often refer to future events, but this was always with respect to what was happening in the present moment: "God says this bad thing will happen because of what you are doing (or what you are not doing) NOW! So you need to change your lives for the better NOW!"

And so their message was almost always conditional. Everything depended on how people responded to the word of God that the prophet had spoken to them. If they responded positively, and changed their lives for the better, they would experience blessings; if they responded negatively, they would experience tragedy and disaster somewhere down the road.

In today's first reading, from the Old Testament Book of Numbers, 72 elders (including Eldad and Medad) speak prophetically. But this upsets Joshua; he doesn’t think that Eldad and Medad should be prophesying, since they weren't with the other 70 when the Spirit descended on them. At that point Moses utters the famous line, "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!"

Moses thought that everyone had the potential to be a spokesperson for the Lord. And so, it wouldn’t surprise him in the least that prophetic activity has continued in the world from his time until our own.

Nor should it surprise us.

Do you believe what Moses believed? Do you believe that each and every one of us in this church right now has the potential to be a prophet for Almighty God in the modern world?

You should! In fact, we don’t just have the potential to be prophets, we have the CALL to be prophets.

And that call is rooted in our Baptism!

The next time you're at a baptism ceremony, pay close attention to what the priest or deacon says to the child after he anoints him or her with sacred chrism. He says, "As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life."

One of the messages in that prayer is, "Child, may you be a prophet in your earthly life, teaching the gospel to others first by what you do, but also by what you say."

At this point, I'd like to share a little bit about my vacation—which actually is NOT off topic, as I'll make clear in a few moments.

As some of you know, I was away from September 14th until the 23rd. I went to see a priest friend of mine, Fr. Chris Mahar, who's studying for a special degree in moral theology at the University of Louvain in Belgium.

And while I was there overseas, the two of us got to spend 4 days with a great woman who just happens to be a prophet for our time. Actually, she is a prophet for EVERY time and place--and for every era of human history.

Her name is Mary.

You see, aside from going to Paris and to various places in Belgium, Fr. Chris and I also spent 4 days in Lourdes, France, where our Blessed Mother appeared to a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Thousands of people from all over the world are there every single day of the year; it’s the largest pilgrimage site in the world. Many of those who go, unfortunately, are sick and dying. They go seeking a miracle cure for their illnesses—and some, happily, get their wish. Many physical healings have taken place in Lourdes since Bernadette first saw our Blessed Mother there. In the early 20th century, the Nobel Prize winning doctor, Alexis Carrell, witnessed two of them firsthand: one of an 18-month-old boy, the other of a 24-year-old woman.

The cures that happen usually occur through the water that comes from the stream near the grotto where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette.

I’ve been blessed to travel to Rome and the Holy Land and many other sacred places, but if you asked me what my favorite religious shrine in the world is, I would tell you without hesitation: “Lourdes”—and I know many others who would echo my sentiments.

There’s something special about the place. There’s even a peaceful atmosphere in the religious goods stores and the restaurants and in other public areas of the town—and you don’t find that in most places, not even in Rome or the Holy Land.

When I was there last week I said to the Lord in prayer, “Lord, why do I love this place so much—aside from the fact that it’s so peaceful here?” and the thought came to me (which I trust was from God): “You love this place, Fr. Ray, because there’s a great deal of misery here, and yet, very few people here are miserable.”

And how true that is! As I said, the sick and the dying are everywhere in Lourdes, and they’re experiencing incredible misery.

But they do not appear to be miserable! It really is amazing. Those who go to Lourdes in that condition seem to be blessed with peace and an inner spiritual healing, even if they don’t experience a complete physical healing or any physical healing at all.

What a contrast to places like our local casino! (This was another thought I had last week at the shrine.) In Lourdes you have lots of people in misery who are not miserable; at the casino you see lots and lots of people who are supposedly having a great time, but who look unbelievably miserable!

At least that’s been my observation in the 10 or 12 times I’ve been there.

Of course, what’s most important about Lourdes or any other apparition site is not the physical healings or even the peaceful atmosphere that you might find there—as nice as those things are. What’s most important about Lourdes and Fatima and Guadalupe and every other approved apparition site are the messages given to us in those places by Mary, our Blessed Mother; Mary who comes to us in these settings as a prophet!

Her messages, incidentally, are always the same: she tells us to pray—to pray often; to pray from our hearts and not just with our lips; and of course she tells us to pray the Rosary among all our other daily prayers.

She tells us to lead a sacramental life and to seek personal holiness.

She always talks about faithfulness to Mass, and coming to Mass with the right attitude (which is not the “let’s-get-this-over-with-quickly-so-that-we-can-get-on-with-the-real-important-stuff” attitude that you find in many Catholics these days).

She talks about getting to confession regularly, and confessing EVERYTHING that needs to be confessed!

And she talks about engaging in acts of penance and charity, to make reparation for our own sins, for the sins of the world, and to draw down God’s grace into our own lives and into the lives of others.

Like every true prophet, Mary speaks to us in the present moment about the present moment. And like a good prophet—as well as a good mother—she warns us about what will happen if we don’t take her messages to heart (which are the same messages contained in the gospel of her Son).

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, that we will always take your prophetic and motherly messages seriously, realizing that you give them to us because you love us and because you want what’s best for us—here, and in eternity. Amen.