Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prophet or Critic?

People think of prophets as fortune-tellers. But actually in the Bible they are the courageous ones who speak the truth. The fortune part follows up naturally: if you call 'em correctly, you can pretty well figure out where things are headed.

My very favorite Catholic sister, Sr. Joan Chittister, juxtaposes prophets with critics:

When we think of prophets, we conjure up images of howling hurts and eyes of steel. What we fail to see in the prophet’s eyes and hear in the prophet’s howl is the rage that comes when, seeing pain, a person stands helpless in its wake. The prophet’s wail is the cry of despair that comes from those who stand in front of a burning building but are powerless to put out the flame. The prophet’s shriek rises out of the angst of helplessness that stops the breath of the living at the bedside of the dying. The prophet does not cry against us; the prophet cries for us.

There is a major difference between a critic and a prophet. Critics stand outside a system and mock it. Prophets remain, clear-eyed and conscientious, inside a sinful system and love it anyway. It is easy to condemn the country, for instance. It is possible to criticize the Church. But it is prophetic to love both Church and country enough to want them to be everything they claim to be—just, honest, free, equal—and then to stay with them in their faltering attempts to do so.


...Neither Church nor state wanted to hear Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton in their pleas for the poor and their prophetic cries for peace, but in the end, it is their messages that expose the secularization of the Church, that haunt it at the turn of every gospel page, that challenge it to this day, and that have marked its best presence in these times.

The function of the prophet is not to destroy. The function of the prophet is to expose whatever cancers fester beneath the surface so that what is loved can be saved while there is yet time.

To claim, then, that to criticize the government is treason, to insist that to criticize the Church is disunity, may be the greatest perfidy and the deepest infidelity of all. It is a prophet’s lot to risk both so that what is worth loving can be made lovable again.
–from “Hosea: Love Without Limit,” Ligourian, 1995

Remind me, please, when I don't speak with love. (I'm afraid that's happening more frequently all the time.) But let's never stop speaking.

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