Written on: March 16, 2015
On a recent Saturday, I had the privilege of participating in a retreat for women at our Grey Nun Motherhouse in Yardley. A group of us offers this retreat once a year during Lent and about seventy women – friends, relatives, Associates of the Grey Nuns, and neighbors — come for prayer, reflection, study, silence, music, and camaraderie with others seeking to deepen their spirituality. This year we focused on the theme of God’s Call and I had the opportunity to give a brief presentation on God’s call in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures.
As I prepared my talk, I was struck with the mission of the prophets of the Old Testament. So often their task was to challenge their people to change their ways, to stop being unjust, to treat the most vulnerable with compassion. In this Christian season of Lenten preparation for Easter, God gives a clear message about the kind of fasting God wants. Isaiah speaks on God’s behalf:
“The kind of fasting I want is this: remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear and do not refuse to help your own relatives.” Isaiah 58:6-8
The day of retreat happened to correspond with the Bloody Sunday 50th anniversary commemoration in Selma, Alabama and I heard only the second half of President Obama’s speech on the bridge. Some of his extraordinary speech sounded to me prophetic. I began to think about people I believe God has called to be prophets in our time: Archbishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Rachel Carson, Gandhi, Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, and now even the young Pakistani, Malala Yousafza, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. The prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition don’t predict the future. They decry injustice and laud virtuous living. They encourage people to be faithful to the values they have learned from their particular culture and religion. In the Old Testament, Micah speaks for God this way: “What God requires of us is this – to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.” Micah 6:8
Thousands of years later, we still need prophets to admonish us when we stray from the right path or fail to speak up for what is right. Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” Rachel Carson, in the very early days of environmental consciousness, challenged us,
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
And the teenage prophet Malala Yousafzai insists,
“ I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
Who are the prophets we should pay attention to? Both Old and New Testament warn us not to be taken in by false prophets. In order to discern the authentic messengers from the false, we need to become people of genuine prayer. A good start is to listen in silence. We need a community of faith to help us sort out the fake from the genuine, so that we are not led astray, imagining we know God’s will when, in fact, it takes more than a lifetime to recognize what God really wants. Let’s take time as spring breaks into winter to give time to listen to the prophets of the Old Testament as well as the prophets of our time.
Sister Eileen White “walks the talk” as a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart ministering to women who have been victims of Human Trafficking. The women are cared for in a safe house which is a collaborative effort among many Religious Congregations in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Read more about Human Trafficking on our website by clicking here. This article appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times on March 13, 2015