13 Aug 2017
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Most of us know the prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon. Where there is discord, let me bring union. Where there is error, let me bring truth. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.”
And in between each of these pairs of opposites is the word “me.” In between hatred and love is “me.” In between discord and unity is “me.” In between darkness and light is “me.” But that’s the position a prophet stands in. A prophet puts him- or herself in the middle of the tension, to be an instrument of the good.
When I was sent to St. Clare it wasn’t only to be a priest and a governor. I was also sent to fulfill a prophetic role: to stand in the middle of the tension, and to be an instrument of the good. Not somebody else, but me.
Think of your families and your friends. You find yourself in a situation where the grandkids don’t go to church anymore, and the kids don’t seem to care. Or you find yourself standing between one friend who’s practically an atheist, and other who’s a firm believer. Or maybe you’re a young adult and you’re surrounded at home, or at school—or even at church—by a lukewarm approach to faith.
A prophet is someone who stands in the middle of the tension and tries to be an instrument of the good. And it’s something that takes practice to get good at. After all, putting ourselves out there in the middle of the tension isn’t our first instinct.
We hear today how Peter started to walk on water (which is kind of a dangerous idea). But he was also practicing to be a prophet in Christ’s Church. Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And there’s that little word again—“me.” “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” It’s strange; I mean, if Peter was trying to get proof that it really was Jesus standing there, you’d think he’d say something like, “Lord, if it’s you, then make the storm stop, or come over here yourself so we can see you better.”
But he doesn’t do that. Instead, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command ‘me’ to come to you.” Peter put himself out there. He was practicing what it means to be a prophet; he was practicing how to put himself in the middle of the storm, and to be an instrument of God’s peace in the storm.
In the Church today we hear a lot of talk about evangelization, especially the New Evangelization: the idea that the world—and the Church herself—needs to be revitalized and redirected by the Holy Spirit. The New Evangelization isn’t only about spreading the gospel; it’s about being a prophet in a time in history when faith, God, Church, religion aren’t taken all that seriously. The “storm” the Church faces today, it seems, is so often a storm of indifference and apathy.
A couple weeks ago I was teaching a class in the summer Religious Ed program. And there were some kids who really didn’t seem like they wanted to be there. So I just said to them, “You know, you don’t have to be here if you don’t want to be. You’re free to go. This isn’t a prison.” And, of course, they didn’t leave.
But that was an instance where the “storm” we sometimes face as a Church is a situation of indifference and apathy. And the truth had to be interjected there, in a prophetic and gentle sort of way; the truth that being a disciple of Christ is a voluntary thing. In fact, that’s the heart of the Church: that spirit of a voluntarily giving “me” to God and his body of believers.
But, as I said, being a prophet takes practice, and it means putting your neck out there when you’d rather not. It means being like the Prophet Daniel, and letting yourself be put into the “lion’s den.”
A few years ago, when I was in seminary, I had to do a summer internship at a hospital as a chaplain. And that was one of the most difficult experiences for me in my training. What I found difficult was just going through the door—not the door of the hospital, but the door of a patient’s room. It was absolutely nerve-racking for me to do that. In fact, the first time I couldn’t even do it.
I’d get up the courage to go in, but then I couldn’t do it. And then I’d wander around some more, thinking, “I gotta go in there.” So I’d head back to the patient’s room, and as I approached the door—I kept on walking. I just couldn’t go in the room. I could not put my neck out there yet. Luckily, I saw some nurses go into the room, and I knew they’d be there a while. So I just left.
I was on my way to the car, saying to myself, “I’m not cut out to do this. I’m not made to be a ‘priest, prophet, and king’ like Jesus. I’m outta here.” I was like Peter, who started to sink and let the storm of fear overtake him. But over the next twenty minutes or so, Jesus calmed me down and he shifted the focus away from me, and toward that person who was lying in the hospital bed. God had put me there in that situation to see that person. And that’s what I had to do.
So I went back. I had a rosary in my pocket; I said a quick prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;” I took a deep breath, and went through the door. And since then, I’ve made hundreds of visits to the hospital, to nursing homes, and to people’s homes. I’ve been put in the middle of many difficult situations I’d never dreamed I’d be asked to deal with. But that was all part of my training and practice at becoming not only a priest and governor in the parish, but also a prophetic voice. It takes practice. It takes practice to be like Peter and say, “Lord, command ‘me’” to do this or that.
People come to me in the confessional. And I hear things like: “Father, there’s this situation in my family regarding faith, and I’m not sure what to do; I’m not sure how to approach it.” Or I hear: “Father, my co-workers say uncharitable things or they’re gossiping, and I know I should say something, but I just can’t.” Or sometimes I hear: “Father, I’m afraid to show my faith in public: when I go out to eat, I just can’t bring myself to say a meal prayer or make the Sign of the Cross; I feel embarrassed.”
Well, those are all situations where the more you put your neck out there, the easier it becomes—and the more natural it becomes. You know, it so often seems that people who have rejected faith and God are quite vocal about it. They’re not afraid to shoot down our beliefs. Catholicism is very much under siege today, as it has been for several decades (and, really, for centuries). But the ones who keep it going are those who embrace their calling to be a prophet. And, really, it’s a calling we each have by virtue of having been baptized.
Being a prophet doesn’t necessarily mean shouting from the hilltops and across the fields; it doesn’t necessarily mean standing on a street corner, handing out pamphlets and literature about the Catholic faith. Being a prophet means learning, first and foremost, how to be someone who takes his or her faith seriously; learning to be someone who lives life with the inner conviction that there is a God, that Jesus is the Lord, that there’s more to life than meets the eye, and that it’s a good and praiseworthy thing to get on our knees and take our direction from God, who is both Lord and Companion.
Being a prophet isn’t about being boastful or confrontational; it’s about learning to be humble before God, and then simply doing what he asks of us. Sometimes that’s easy; sometimes it isn’t, and ends up taking a lot of practice.
When Peter was getting ready to walk on the water, he knew he had to have faith that Jesus would see him through it. Peter knew he couldn’t rely on himself; there was no way he could walk on water without the Lord’s help. And so when Peter said, “Lord, command me to come to you on the water,” he was also saying, “Lord, test my faith in you; Lord, test my humility.”
And for a few steps, it worked! Peter had faith, and he was doing the impossible! But then, just for a moment, doubt entered his heart and he began to sink. No worries, though! Jesus caught him, and it was a good practice. Now, if we find we’re afraid to do what’s right, well, admit that to God. Just be humble and honest and say, “Lord, there’s no way I can do this—not by myself. I don’t have it in me. Lord, you’re gonna have to do all the work, because I just can’t.”
And prayer like that is music to God’s ears. He loves the prayer of a humble person, the prayer of a person who’s trying to put his or her faith into practice. Being a prophet in the world today isn’t about being boastful, or harsh, or confrontational; it’s about learning to be humble before God, and then just doing what he asks of us—in the situations we find ourselves.
And we don’t have to do it all ourselves; in fact, we shouldn’t. For example, if there’s a family situation going on and you’re not sure what to do, well ask someone else. Asking for help to do the right thing is a great sign of humility. Prophets always speak from a position of humility. Or, if the situation calls for it, involve others in doing what’s right.
About a month or so ago, I was driving by a house and I heard a man yelling. And as I checked it out, I saw that he was yelling at his kids, who were probably grade school age. He was yelling at them, screaming at them, and I was concerned for the kids. So I got out my cell phone and contacted Child Protective Services for the county, and they took care of it. Being a prophet means looking out for your neighbor, and sometimes asking for help when the Kingdom of God needs to be brought into a situation.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.” A prophet puts him- or herself in the middle of the tension, to be an instrument of the good.
And the world today needs prophets; it needs humble men and women of living faith who can say, “Lord, you put me here. Help me to do what you need me to do. Make me an instrument of your peace.”