Isaiah 35: 4 – 7a, Gospel: Mark 7: 31 – 37
Last month I wrote about prophets and the difficulties they face, this homily focuses on the prophetic word. The Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel very nicely illustrate the continuity and progression of God’s plan from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and to our own time. Isaiah was a prophet during a period when the leadership of Jerusalem was weak and, against the prophetic advice of Isaiah, entered into an alliance with Assyria. Assyria took control and the people of Jerusalem were oppressed. The reading for this Sunday has Isaiah prophesying not to be afraid, that God would come to vindicate them. When this prophecy was fulfilled the, “eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.” These are prophetic images of Jerusalem being set free, healed and restored.
A true prophetic message is one that is timeless. Prophecy is God’s word spoken through an individual called and blessed with this gift. It is a message that can be accepted or rejected, for it is often a message that calls for a change in direction. This kind of change involves humility to acknowledge that mistakes or infidelity to God were present. When a prophecy is given there is usually an immediate situation that it is addressing, as well as a message that goes far beyond the immediate. Isaiah seemed to be speaking only of the immediate promise of God to restore Israel, but the message was also looking towards the fulfillment of God’s plan of sending a Messiah and Redeemer. Throughout the Gospels Jesus fulfills the prophecy as he opens the ears of the deaf and restores the speech of those with impediments, he also opens the eyes of the blind, heals the crippled, raises the dead back to life, and ultimately takes away our sins. This is so much more than what the people who heard Isaiah’s message expected. When we turn our hearts to God we always receive far more than we expect.
Prophecy did not end with the coming of Jesus, for Jesus blessed the Church with the Holy Spirit who pours upon us numerous gifts. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Saint Paul refers to in I Corinthians 13 and Romans 12. His references indicate that prophecy is a gift given to the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prophecy in paragraph 2004 this way, “Among the special graces that ought to be mentioned are the graces of state that accompany the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and of the ministries within the Church.” The passage then goes on to quote Romans 12:6 – 8.
St. John Paul and Pope Francis can be seen as prophets. Saint John Paul called for a new evangelization in 1979, constantly challenged us to turn away from materialism, and gave us the Theology of the Body. These messages weren’t fully appreciated at the time they were given, but are now recognized as being important for the life of the Church. Pope Francis makes some uncomfortable as he speaks and acts so boldly about the care for the poor. His encyclical, Laudato Si, calls us to change our accustomed way of life so as to be better stewards of creation. It challenges us to make radical changes in how we apply the Gospel to the environment and the economy so as not to exploit those in poverty, so as to share with them justly the fruits of creation. These messages make some uncomfortable, most prophecies do: our call is to listen and study with open hearts what God may be saying to us.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.