harbinger of hope

Jul 13, 2012

Lord, let us see your kindness,

and grant us your salvation

You will be reading this on or after Sunday July 15. I’m writing on Wednesday, July 11. That is a bit distracting for me since July 11 is the feast of St. Benedict, and I’m finding it difficult to focus less on Benedict and to look ahead to the readings of the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

On second thoughts, maybe there is no tension between the two…
While there is no evidence that St. Benedict initially intended to form a religious congregation, his communities of men who were seeking to follow Christ with all their heart, soul and mind, became a significant movement in Italy in the sixth century.

In the 1400 years since, these Benedictine communities have spread across the world.  Benedict’s first communities were in the hills just east of Rome (Subiaco, 40 km inland). Then came the most significant foundation at Monte Cassino.  You will recall this hilltop monastery from NZ World War II history. This is where 343 NZ soldiers died in January & March of 1944. Many of these soldiers are buried in the cemetery below the monastery.

Back to Benedict. The growing Benedictine communities needed guidelines for their life together, so Benedict prepared the document that remains today as the frame for Religious life in many communities today. This “Rule” begins with the key word: Listen!

And now, with this bit of direction from Benedict, we are ready to appreciate today’s Mass readings more deeply.

We meet Amos in the Old Testament reading. He was a farmer. Then his life changed. In his own words:

The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me,
Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

So Amos was called to be a prophet. Like St. Benedict (who lived 12 centuries later), Amos knew that human life could only be lived fully by the one who listened to God.

When you hear that Amos was called to be a ‘prophet’, what do you imagine his job-description was?   Many people think that a prophet is the one who can predict the future in a spooky and magical kind of way. But a prophet is no fortune-teller.

The Old Testament prophet was not a ‘predictor’ of future events. Instead the prophet was one who had a heightened awareness of the reality of the present, and who could also see the consequences of this reality. The prophet was sensitive to the voice of God. The prophet was one who listened for God.

The one who listens for God, will hear God. This encounter renews the desires of the human heart, by reorienting the heart to God.

In the words of the of Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution (7 December 1965), the prophet is one who is able to accurately read “the signs of the times.”  

The prophet, with this insight, is the one most able to see the consequences of present attitudes and behaviours. The prophet will therefore be hypersensitive to everything that is an ignorance of (or a rejection of) God’s invitation to us to live abundantly. 

The one who hears (or reads) the prophet, might mistakenly think that this preacher is an ‘orator of doom,’ since s/he will often begin by clarifying the problem before offering the solution.  But the prophet is a real preacher of good news. The prophet is a true harbinger of hope, and hope is the path from death (i.e. hope-less-ness) to life.  As the New Testament begins we hear the same message from John the Baptist: “Repent, for the good news is at hand.”

John sums up the role of the prophet in a single word: repent!

Now, to jump ahead to today’s gospel which begins: “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them…”  Then to jump ahead to the end of this reading: “So they went off and preached repentance…”

There are many noises that clamour for our attention each day.  All too easily the journey of human life can become an exhausting lurch from one demand to the next. We fall into bed at the end of the day exhausted. We hardly seem to have slept before the alarm rattles us awake to endure a new day. And too often the new day is nothing new. Life is not meant to be like this.  There is something wrong!

And the prophet can tell us what is wrong. We have forgotten to listen. We need to repent – to turn to God anew.

It is our desire to listen for God that urges us to gather for the Mass every week.  From the midst of the demands of our days we need to hear anew the voice of God. We need the grace to live in harmony with the beautiful desire that God has for us.

And so we pray in the prayer of today’s psalm: Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation”.  


related blog entry:  
On Anzac Day 2008, pilgrims from Christchurch were at Monte Cassino.  


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