Stories Seldom Heard
The Vocation of the Prophets
Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to welcome the
members of Holy Trinity Parish, Westfield, New Jersey.
In true prophetic
fashion, Isaiah and the other prophets exposed the sins of the Israelite
people, but that was not their total message. They also reminded the
people of God’s accessible mercy, compassion and forgiveness.
The vocation of a
prophet is not an easy one. Since they clearly identify the sins of
their society, they expose themselves to the anger of the community,
especially to the leaders of the country. Isaiah’s mission was to
announce, in God’s name, the downfall of the great tribes of Israel and
Judah. We can only imagine how unpopular Isaiah must have been with the
King and the authorities because Isaiah explicitly related their
society’s demise to their leaders’ unfaithfulness to God’s law.
the saints of the Old Testament, Abraham and Sarah, who welcomed the
strangers, fed them, and cared for their needs, Judah and Israel were
oppressing the poor. Unlike, Moses, who listened to God’s voice and
trusted in God’s power to help the Israelites escape from oppression,
the Israelite kings were oppressing those who were in their care,
especially the foreigners. Isaiah doesn’t use obscure or vague examples
of the authorities’ hypocrisy. He is as straight talking as the God who
speaks to him. “The law is not mysterious or beyond your reach…. Cease
to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed,
be just to the orphan, plead for the widow” (Is. 1:17).
It is hard to
read Isaiah’s condemnation of his society. The people’s pride, lack of
compassion and integrity are blatant. “What a harlot she (Jerusalem)
has become…once integrity lived there, but now assassins” (Is. 1:21).
We know, however, that these negative qualities are not isolated to the
year 740BC. We know that we, too, are in need of conversion, both
nationally and personally. “Help the oppressed, be just to the orphans,
plead for the widows.” This command of God is very near to us these
days. It is as close to us as it was to Abraham, Sarah, Moses and
When we disregard
God’s command, there are tangible signs in society. Cardinal Bergoglio,
now Pope Francis, in a homily in Buenos Aires in 2010, identified some
of the signs: the human rights abuses in his country. His words echo
Isaiah and other ancient and modern prophets.
In this city
there are many slaves….sweatshops…trafficking…when we read the stories
of ancient civilizations …people were killed and we were horrified….In
this city are made human sacrifices that kill the dignity of men and
women, boys and girls subjected to trafficking and slavery. We cannot
stay quiet. This city is full of boys and girls beaten by the
wayside….and then they are left lying by the roadside (1).
This is a
sobering message and a reality that is not isolated in Buenos Aires.
The U.S. Justice Department estimates that 17,000 people are trafficked
into this country every year, but the true figure could be higher,
because of the large numbers of undocumented immigrants. About 300,000
children are believed to be currently at risk from sexual exploitation.
Isaiah’s words echo in our minds and hearts each day. “Be just to the
orphan, plead for the widow.”
Pope Francis has frequently questioned
whether we have become nations that are indifferent to the poor.
The most economically advanced societies
are witnessing a growing trend
towards extreme individualism which,
combined with a utilitarian mentality
and reinforced by the media, is
producing a “globalization of
indifference.” In this scenario,
migrants, refugees, displaced persons and
victims of trafficking have become
emblems of exclusion. . .That attitude
is an alarm bell warning of the moral
decline we will face if we continue
to give ground to the throw-away
Francis, like the Truthsayers of old, also offers us hope. Because we
are people of faith, we have experienced and trust God’s mercy. “ Think
of the prophet Isaiah who asserts that even if our sins were scarlet
red, God’s love would make them white as snow…” (3). To recognize our
need for forgiveness is to recognize that we, like the prophets, in
small or greater ways participate in the injustices in our society.
Our vocation as
disciples is not to scold, but to examine our own lives as we bring to
public attention what is contrary to God’s law in our nation. Our
responsibility is to act on behalf of the common good for all. Even
though we might feel overwhelmed by powerful leaders, our belief and
articulation of God’s vision for the world is a frightening announcement
to those who believe they have control of the forces of our world. For
those who think of the world as a closed system which they alone have
the power to rule, have forgotten or never known the God of the
past events when God intervened, surprised and guided the people.
Leaning on these memories Isaiah encourages us to do the same and to
trust in a God of the unexpected. God has not left us on our own. God
is drawing us forward towards wholeness. The future is still
unfolding. It is not an undirected future, but a movement that is
filled with God’s life-giving force. Isaiah’s message of hope is a
subversive message because God promises to be with us in the chaos of
our lives. In Chapter 44:3 God says, “I will pour out my spirit on your
descendants, my blessing on your children…. I will not forget you…. I
will dispel your faults like a cloud, your sins like mist. Come back to
me for I have redeemed you.”
Isaiah reminds us
that because we hope in God’s promises, we refuse to accept the reality
of our day as the only possibility. We did not fashion our world or
ourselves. “I form the light and create the dark” (Is 45:7). “Can it
(the pot) argue with the one who fashioned it, one vessel among earthen
vessels? Does the clay say to its fashioner, ‘What are you making?’
Does the thing say to the maker, ‘You have no skill’” (Is. 45:9)?
To make room in
our well-planned lives and for the unexpected is another name for
grace. To recognize and be amazed at God’s power working in the midst
of our folly is to recognize grace in our world. To believe that we are
called to be prophetic witnesses, as were the first prophets, is to
trust that it is Grace calling us to respond. “Grace always comes
first, then comes all the rest” (4). This prophetic vocation to which
each of us is called is a humbling process. Listening to God’s voice
calling us forward requires much patience with ourselves. Rainer Maria
Rilke says it more poetically. “Be patient and without resentment, and
know that the least we can do is to make God’s becoming no more
difficult than earth makes it for spring when it wants to arrive. Be
comforted and glad” (5).
and daily meditation helps bring forth the emerging spring within us.
So perhaps each morning this month we might read Isaiah 61:1- 3 and read
the headlines in the newspaper or email messages. Then each evening
take three minutes noting how we have responded to our prophetic call.
Matthew E. Bunson, Pope Francis, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.,
Huntington, Indiana, 46750, 2013. pages 154-155.
ibid, p. 192
ibid, p. 190
ibid, p. 190
Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings from
the Best of Ranier Maria Rilke. HarperOne, 2009, December 31.
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly
article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican
Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the
Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life. The
articles can be used for individual or group reflection.
If you would like to support this
ministry, please send your contributions to: Dominican Sisters of San
Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P.,
2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA
94115 Thank you.
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green, and
Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. To make
changes or remove your name from “Stories Seldom Heard” mailing
list, please contact me at
Thank you. Bob McGrath.