Elizabeth Julian rsm
On Easter Monday I was on the Berhampore golf course with friends. We were mushrooming and before long we had half filled a plastic shopping bag. We took our treasures home and cooked them for lunch. They tasted great with my home made pesto.
Church documents about Religious Life don’t mention mushrooming or home made pesto. They say, among other things, that religious women and men are supposed to be prophetic. The 1996 Synod document, Vita Consecrata, puts it like this:
The prophetic character of the consecrated life
There is a prophetic dimension which belongs to the consecrated life as such, resulting from the radical nature of the following of Christ and of the subsequent dedication to the mission characteristic of the consecrated life. The sign value, which the Second Vatican Council acknowledges in the consecrated life, is expressed in prophetic witness to the primacy which God and the truths of the Gospel have in the Christian life…True prophecy is born of God, from friendship with him, from attentive listening to his word in the different circumstances of history. Prophets feel in their hearts a burning desire for the holiness of God and, having heard his word in the dialogue of prayer, they proclaim that word with their lives, with their lips and with their actions, becoming people who speak for God against evil and sin. Prophetic witness requires the constant and passionate search for God’s will, for self-giving, for unfailing communion in the Church, for the practice of spiritual discernment and love of the truth. (#84)
So prophecy then is an integral part of the nature of religious life. What exactly does this mean?
Telling the time
Sandra Schneiders who has written extensively about religious life says that prophecy is essentially about hope for the reign of God as well as action to bring it about. Prophecy is not about telling the future. Rather ‘it is about telling what time it is, what it is time for, in the present’. Schneiders says there are three requirements for the prophet:
1 The ability to see and hear the human experience from God’s point of view.
2 The ability to:
a lament publicly, ie, to declare to both the oppressor and the oppressed that business as usual is no longer possible.
b recall God’s promises and thereby give hope for an alternative future.
3 The willingness to suffer and even die for the sake of the newness one is called to proclaim. Prophets live on the edges, on the margins of the system they are called not to survive but to change. As Jesus pointed out, prophets are never welcome in their own country (Matt 13:57).
Schneiders goes on to say that prophecy’s two defining characteristics are its religious motivation and its location in the Church.
What drives prophets?
As religious we have a driving and motivating force that takes precedence over everything else and that is our quest, our search, for God. We only have one loyalty, to God, and one agenda, the reign of God.
Where do prophets direct their message?
As religious we are called to prophesy primarily to the Church. The Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah experienced their prophetic call within their own situation in Israel. They were not called to prophesy to Assyria, Babylon or Egypt. We are not called to prophesy primarily to the world. Our principal addressee is the Church itself. We are not agents of the institutional Church. We are not members of the hierarchy. It is not our task to represent, protect, or guard doctrinal purity. Rather, our prophetic vocation is to be about the reign of God for the sake of the world, with the Church as our primary context. It is here that we cannot be anonymous. It is here, with our commitment to a Gospel vision, that we can help the Church to be herald, instrument and servant of the reign of God for the sake of the world. It can often be much easier and safer for religious to criticise society than to criticise the institutional Church itself. Indeed the latter has often tried to focus our prophetic activity elsewhere. Hence, just as the prophets of old suffered rejection by the religious authorities, so too will we.
Somehow, mushrooming on the Berhampore golf course seems a much more attractive activity than being prophetic. Perhaps I have forgotten ‘what time it is, what it is time for’.
Will somebody please remind me once again?