Father Richard Rohr describes the confidence that characterizes the voice of the prophets:
What characterizes the prophets, and it’s still a bit of a shock to the rest of us, is an immense self-confidence that they speak for God. Where does this come from? How can they be so sure? “Thus says the Lord,” they begin with, and “Hear the word of the Lord.” They describe their call, and if we look at the conversion of Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or even Moses who was called the first of the prophets, we can see that it’s their initial transformative experience that names the rest of their insight. We see the same in Paul, where Paul’s conversion experience (Acts 9:1–19) takes place after hearing Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (9:4). At first Paul defends himself, as if to say: “I wasn’t persecuting you Jesus, but these people.” Ultimately, Paul comes up with this marvelous doctrine of the mystical body of Christ: there’s an inherent communion or union between Jesus and his people. What you do to one, you do to the other. Until we understand that, we don’t understand Paul at the ground level. Everything proceeds from that.
Richard affirms that a prophetic call comes to each of us in our own unique way:
It’s the prophets’ initial theophany, their initial parting of the veil that seems to become the nature of how they henceforth see reality. I want you to see that because I’d like you to look at your own spiritual autobiography and see how you were formed, how and where you were led when God showed God’s face to you. It’s at that level that you know—and you know that you know. Your prophetic charism comes from your own conversion, a transformation into the mystery of God.
Paul knew that the only way this realignment would take place was through an ego-stripping experience that tears away our false and fabricated self and leads us to a new self (Ephesians 2:15; Galatians 6:15), where all contradictions can be absorbed and overcome. It had happened in him and now he saw his life as “handing on this reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), which was always through the coincidence of opposites called the cross.
The cross, even geometrically, is a collision of two opposing lines. Paul knew by his unwarranted election that God had not eliminated or expelled his former self, but instead had “incorporated” it into the Christ Self. He knew that he was still a mass of contradictions and inconsistencies, which is exactly what is written all over the pages of his letters. Yet his absolute confidence was not in his personal wholeness, but in Jesus, the one who had grafted him onto the Wholeness of God. This is the total basis of Paul’s joy, his love, his daring self-confidence, and his impassioned desire to have everyone else experience the same transformation and ecstasy.
Adapted from Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2006). Available as MP3 download; and
Richard Rohr, Soul Brothers: Men in the Bible Speak to Men Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 67–68.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Untitled Bosque, Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 10, and Untitled 8. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
Just as a bird notices an impulse and takes flight, so we also hear and respond.
Story from Our Community:
For several years my wife and I have delighted in a pair of cardinals that frequent our yard. One evening, I noticed the male cardinal on our porch right by the back door. I moved closer but he remained by the door. I opened the door thinking he would fly away. He didn’t. Gently, I picked him up. Seeing no signs of injury I put him down, went inside and closed the door. Looking again several minutes later, I saw that he had died. To this day we believe he came to say goodbye. We thanked him for the grace, beauty and love with which he and his mate blessed us. —Peter K.