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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Proclaiming Christ in the Culture

Robert Barron - Proclaiming Christ in the Culture

Robert Barron - Proclaiming Christ in the Culture
TOPICS: Evangelism

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading is a very simple, very brief passage from the book of the prophet Amos. But it has, I think, a rather extraordinary significance for us and for our time. We don't even really know for sure when the book of the prophet Amos was written down. The scholars disagree about that. The prophet Amos himself lived in the eighth century BC. He came from Judea in the south to up to Israel in the north, and there he prophesied against the powers that be. As is almost always the case, the prophets annoy the powers that be. The book of Amos is largely a collection of, oh, visions of impending judgment, let's say. But the passage the Church gives us for today, as I say, is very interesting. He's being challenged, and Amos says this: "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees".

You say, "Well, isn't that, I suppose, mildly interesting"? No, it's very important for us. Now why? The prophet Amos is saying here, "Look, I don't belong to this professional or even quasi-professional class of trained prophets. I'm not the son or grandson of a prophet. I'm not formally trained in a particular school of prophecy. I don't belong to a religious caste". Rather, in saying, "I'm a shepherd, and a dresser of sycamores," he's saying, "I'm an ordinary layman. I'm someone that just was doing ordinary work in the world".

So therefore, our version of this, and here's where I want all of you to listen carefully, our version might be, "Look, I'm not a priest or a bishop or a catechist or a trained theologian. I'm not a professional religious person. I don't have any formal training in it. I'm a salesman. I'm a business woman. I'm a private equity investor. I'm a carpenter. I'm a journalist. I'm a stay-at-home mom. I'm a computer analyst". I mean, say what you want. It's: "I'm a lay person. I'm doing ordinary work in the world". Yes. But if you're baptized, you're a prophet. "Look, I'm not a professional at this". Yeah, yeah. I know. But you're baptized. That means you're priest, you're king and you're prophet. "Hey, look, I just do an ordinary layman's work in the world". Yeah, yeah. I know.

So was Amos. He was a shepherd and a keeper of sycamores. He was an ordinary working-class guy. And yet the Lord summoned him to prophesy. And so, every baptized person listening to me right now, so the Lord summons you to prophecy. So what I want to do in the course of this brief homily is just say a few simple things about what it means to be a prophet, even if, even if you're not a professional, you're not priest, bishop, catechist, theologian. What does it mean? First of all, I think most basically it means this: you're meant to speak God's word to others.

Now, I mean, cultivating your spiritual life privately, terrific. Your prayer life, you go to Mass, you pray the Rosary, you do your morning prayers and evening prayers. You cultivate an interior spirituality. Terrific. That's part, by the way, of your priestly responsibility, and maybe I'll preach on that at a later date. But you can do all of that and not really be a prophet because a prophet is someone who speaks the word of God publicly for the sake of others.

Now, when I say publicly, don't think right away a Billy Graham or John Paul II or Fulton Sheen. I don't mean preaching necessarily to a giant audience. But I mean speaking on behalf of the Lord to others. That's what it means to be a prophet. So, what do we need to do? How do we need to be prepared to do this? Here's a first bit of advice. Let the language of the faith be naturally on your lips. Okay, so you're not Billy Graham. I'm not saying you're preaching to fifty thousand people. But I do mean, as you go through your day, let the language of the faith come naturally to your lips, that people might know, "Oh, that's a person of faith".

How often do you say "God bless you" to someone publicly? How often, as you're describing your day, your activity, you say something like, "Well, if God wills"? How often, when you're out for dinner or for lunch at a restaurant, do you cross yourself and say, "Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts," and in a way that you're not hiding it, but a way that, not to be forward and obnoxious about it, but that people hear? Do you ever say things like, "Well, I think where the Lord is leading me... And again, I'm not saying it in a proselytizing, aggressive way, but that it naturally comes to your lips. I have found, everybody, that these simple acknowledgments of faith, publicly uttered, can have an enormously powerful impact on people to remind them, yes, there are still people of faith; yes, people still do live under the aegis of God and God's will.

If we're always hiding it away because we're so afraid of offending someone, I mean, God knows, today, whatever you say will offend somebody, so what the heck? Go for it. You know? But if I'm always so afraid of offending that I just keep my faith to myself, then I never allow this prophetic speech, now, it's simple. Not John Paul II. It's simple, but powerful. Let the language of the faith be readily on your lips.

Here's a second recommendation. I'm taking this from the famous First Letter of Peter. "Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you". Always; not sometimes, not typically. "Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you," St. Peter tells us. "Now, oh look, I'm no catechist, I'm no Thomas Aquinas". Yeah, yeah. I know. I know. Neither was Amos. "I'm not a professional prophet. I'm a keeper of sycamores". I know, like you: ordinary, working-class person. Ordinary layman. I know. Nevertheless, "always be ready to give a reason for the hope that's in you".

When someone asks about the faith, are you ready to give an answer? Now, maybe not high-octane, and maybe not nuclear physics theology, maybe not Thomas Aquinas level answer, but an answer. Are you ready to explain to someone who asks, "Yeah, here's why I'm a Christian; here's why I'm a Catholic"? Something that I've discovered, breaks my heart, but in study after study, when young people have disaffiliated from the Church, you know what they say? "I never got my questions answered". Now, they do mean, I think, in catechism class and so on, but I think they mean more generally, even from my parents, from my relatives, from my church-going friends. "I never got my questions answered".

Man, it's a failure in prophecy that we were not ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. Being ignorant of the faith, everybody, is just not a viable option for prophets. Period. "Oh, look, I'm a simple person living my faith". Not enough. Not enough. You're not just a priest. You're also a prophet. Here's the good news. There are a lot of materials available today that didn't exist even like ten, fifteen years ago, and I mean because of the internet. It's got its problems, God knows, but thank God for it because it's made available to us all kinds of resources. There are darn good books on theology, and spirituality, apologetics, that are meant to answer the very questions people have. So if you're saying, "Look, I'm not always ready to give a reason for the hope that's in me", well, get ready! Get ready. Prepare yourself. There are lots of good materials available, and prophets ought to be using them so that you can speak this saving word when somebody asks.

Here's a third recommendation for prophets: don't just trade in bromides and spiritual love letters. Now, what do I mean? The biblical prophets did share, of course, positive things. They said beautiful and touching things about God and God's love. Think of Isaiah channeling the Lord. "I've carved you in the palm of my hand". "Could a mother forget her child"? And "Even if she forgets, I'd never forget you".

There are these lovely, lyrical passages in the prophets, and there should be that kind of lovely language on our lips too. But, may I say, if you just pick up the Bible, and you're reading Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Zechariah, Hosea, you're going to find an awful lot of pretty strong and pretty blunt language. The prophets speak in a challenging way. And may I say this furthermore? Very often it has to do with what we would call today issues of social justice. What really gets under the skin of prophets? What really gets stuck in their craw? When the poor are mistreated, when those on the margins are forgotten about, when rich and satisfied people ignore those who are poor and suffering.

Social injustice bothers the prophets, and they speak out strongly against it. Yes, even calling out the highest powers in the land. Okay. Okay. Prophets, every baptized person listening to me right now, you're a prophet, how strongly do we speak out against these injustices? How often do we raise our voices, yes, even in the political forum, in favor of the poor and the hungry and the homeless, the marginalized, the forgotten, the refugee, the unborn? How often do we speak out clearly? That's prophetic speech.

Fourthly and relatedly: prepare, brothers and sisters, prophets, to be unpopular. If getting the crowd to like you is your preoccupation, you'll be a lousy prophet. If ingratiating yourself with those who will advance your career, if that's your priority, you'll be a terrible prophet. No, no; the prophets, they were often rejected, persecuted, hounded to death. So it goes. When you speak the word of the Lord in a public setting, don't expect them to throw flowers at you.

I love this from the great Jewish scholar Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: he said the prophets were those who felt the feelings of God and then spoke to others out of that experience. It's a marvelous description. A prophet feels the feelings of God. They feel God's joy. They feel God's passion to set things right. They feel his anger at injustice. They delight in the goodness of God's people. And they speak out of that experience. So should you. Maybe not to fifty thousand people in a stadium, but so should you, in your ordinary lives.

And then a final recommendation, everybody, that sort of draws all this together. How do you come to have these feelings? How do you come to identify with God's manner of knowing and being? There's only one way, and that's through prayer, through deep attention to God. A prophet that never prays, not a prophet. Won't work. You'll start trading in your own stupid language. You'll start sharing your own inadequate ideas. No, no; prophets attend regularly, deeply, powerfully to God, and that's how they begin to feel the feelings of God.

So, let me sum it up. You want to be a prophet? Well, I don't really care if you want to be. You have to be, if you're baptized. You've got the charism. Let the language of the faith be readily on your lips. Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you. Speak hard truths about social injustice. Be ready to accept the vilification of the crowd. At all times, pray. "Hey, hey. I'm no prophet. I'm just a keeper of sycamores". Yeah, I know. I know. But you are called to be a prophet. There's the path to follow. And God bless you.
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