SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  JEREMIAH 1:17-19; MARK 6:17-29]

In the days of old, prophecy was normally made by a charismatic leader.  Most of the time he was a lone voice crying out in the desert, like John the Baptist. This was the case of most of the prophets in the Old Testament. Most of the time, they were fighting against the established institutions.  Whether it was Jeremiah, John the Baptist, our Lord Jesus or the apostles, their real enemies and opponents were the rulers of the day, the king, the princes, the nobles, the priests and the powerful.  It must have been terribly frightening to be a prophet because the kings and the authorities had power over life and death. To criticize or reprimand those who were in power was to court death, imprisonment and punishment.  So it is not surprising that all the prophets, including our Lord, were persecuted, imprisoned, mocked, ridiculed, threatened, intimidated and even killed.

Who wants such a job?  Who wants to be unpopular?  Who wants to have his life shortened when we have only one life?  Who would not be worried for his loved ones, especially his family members, if anything were to go wrong for them?  Who is not afraid of pain and rejection, physical and moral suffering?  Who is not afraid of loneliness and isolation?  We can be sure that when John the Baptist was thrown into the dungeon, a small little cell all chained up in the palace, it must have been very hard and miserable for him as he was so free all his life. Worst of all, a prophet is not paid.  He would have to live simply.  He is called to be a prophet not just in words but in life.  So why be a prophet when there is nothing to gain from it?

Unlike other offices, positions or jobs where people aspire to and work for them, a prophet needs to be called.  This is because without conviction and passion this prophetic office cannot be exercised faithfully. Indeed, Jeremiah and John the Baptist knew in their hearts that they were called by the Lord. “The word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying: ‘Brace yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you. Do not be dismayed at their presence, or in their presence I will make you dismayed.’”   The prophetic office is not a choice we make based on our likes and preferences.  It has to be a call from within our hearts, hence, the Latin word, “vocare”.

Only when we are called, can we then exercise the office with confidence and power.  This is because unlike other career choices, we know that we are not working for ourselves but for God and His people.  We also know that unlike a career where we need to depend on ourselves, when it is a vocation, we depend more on God who works in and through us.  We know that we are not fighting this battle alone but because this mission is from God, He will supply us the graces to accomplish His tasks.  This is what the Lord said to Jeremiah, “I, for my part, today will make you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze to comfort all this land: the kings of Judah its princes, its priests and the country people.  They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you – it is the Lord who speaks.”  With the psalmist, we can place our total trust in the Lord to help us and rescue us from our foes.  “In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your justice rescue me, free me: pay heed to me and save me.  Be a rock where I can take refuge, a mighty stronghold to save me; for you are my rock, my stronghold.  Free me from the hand of the wicked.”   In the final analysis, a true prophet is so only because we can see the hand of the Lord working in and through him in a most powerful manner.

Whilst the essential pattern of the call to be a prophet and the work is still the same today, the way one is called to exercise the office of prophecy can be quite different.  In those days, we depended simply on a charismatic person.  This still remains the case today.  We need charismatic leaders filled with passion, zeal and conviction for anything to move forward.  However, unlike prophecy then, which was localized in a particular county or country, today we live in a global village.  It would be impossible to communicate with the rest of society if we simply go about doing our work.

So over and above a charismatic prophet who is both eloquent in words and exemplary in deeds, there is a need for collaboration with others.  We need the support of the community as well.  This explains why consistently and repeatedly, the popes have reminded us that the mission of the Church must be accomplished in communion.  We cannot act alone as in the past.  The prophets of today need to be supported by the community if his work were to be effective.  If the Church has become a diminishing prophet in the world, it is because we are not working together as Church.  If we are fighting among ourselves and divided, Satan is very happy.  The world wants to see the Church divided from within so that they do not have to do anything.  If we do not support the Holy Father in His mission, the Church cannot be a real prophetic force in the world. If the world listens to the pope, it is because they know that more than a billion people are behind him.  So if want to preach about the beauty of married life and the family, we must, as Catholics, demonstrate the joy of married love and the family.

Even this is not sufficient if we want our message to get across to all peoples in the world.  Today, we need the media to help us in the work of prophecy.  The stark reality is that in a globalized and digital society, the only way to reach out to the masses is to leverage the tools of mass communication.  Print alone is no longer effective.  The media is a double-edged sword.  They can be our friends or our enemies.  The power of the media is really great.  It can swing the opinions of the masses by the way it reports the news and the way it presents the facts.  Public opinion is easily swayed by the media and those who use social communication tools.  Quite often, one is elected or heard only because of the support and the sympathy of the media.  Thus, the media is a very powerful instrument in the work of prophecy today.  If harnessed well, they can help us to spread the Good News and proclaim the truth to the world.

But there are also many Herodias around who would manipulate anyone to serve their cause.  Herodiaswould even go to the extreme of allowing her daughter to dance before Herod, which in those days was considered inappropriate for a royal member of the family.  But she was so vindictive that she would not spare any effort to destroy her critics.  This is true of the world today.  Our opponents of the truth and justice can and will do anything to discredit the prophets of the Church, often using the media and manipulating it for their own agenda and interests.  If not dealt with properly, they could destroy all that we have built.  Thus a prophet today must be on guard against the devious plans and attacks of our enemies all the time.

This is all the more urgent because of relativism.  Our hearts inform us of what is right and what is wrong.  Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist and yet was afraid of him.  Like Herod, we are often in a dilemma.  There is in each one of us, good and evil.  We are not much different from Herod.  We do not like to hear the truth in case we need to change; yet we feel drawn to hear the truth that is proclaimed.  As Church, therefore, we need to speak together as one led by our leader, be he our Holy Father or the bishop of the diocese, so that when we speak, we can be heard clearly by the world, as opposed to when we speak singly or as an individual.

Let us today be inspired by John the Baptist’s courage and fidelity to the truth.  He preferred to be true to his calling and the voice of God than to listen to the world.  He lived and died for the truth.  We too are called to be the conscience of the world.  We must not hide the truth and choose popularity, acceptance and personal gain over truth and justice.  Let us not waiver like Herod and give in to impulse, driven by fear, emotions and self-indulgence.  John could do this only because of his relationship with the Lord.  He derived his strength and fortitude from prayer and communion with God in the desert and in solitude.  If we feel discouraged today, and all alone like Jeremiah, John the Baptist and our Lord, let us go to the garden of Gethsemane and cry out for help.  Like the psalmist, we pray, “It is you, O Lord, who are my hope, my trust, O Lord, since my youth. On you I have leaned from my birth, from my mother’s womb you have been my help. My lips will tell of your justice and day by day of your help.  O God, you have taught me from my youth and I proclaim your wonders still.”