Would That All Were Prophets?
by Fr. Ambrose Criste, O.Praem.
Joshua, son of Nun, said, “Moses, my lord, stop them.” But Moses answered him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all!”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world in which all of God’s people were prophets and alive in the Spirit, moving and acting not as mere human creatures, but as vessels of prophecy and royal dignity and spirit-filled holiness? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Do you know what, my friends? We do live in that world. This wish that Moses expresses here in the Book of Numbers—Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all!—this wish is our reality as baptized Christians. We all know from our most elementary instruction in our holy faith that Baptism gives us new life in the Holy Spirit, and with that new life we share in the prophetic mission of Christ (along with His priesthood and His royal dignity). Our life as Christians right now is the fulfillment of Moses’ wish and prayer. We are, all of us together and each of us individually, prophets of the Lord and vessels of the Holy Spirit.
St. Teresa of Avila says that it is impossible for a Christian to be stagnant or fixed in his or her spiritual life. We are always, at every moment, either advancing toward the goal of our striving, growing in virtue and holiness by God’s grace; or we are regressing, slipping back into our former ways, turning away from our ultimate goal of holiness and heaven.
St. James gives us a pretty clear picture of what that unfortunate regression looks like: “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire.” Certainly none of here wants to live in that miserable state. We might ask ourselves, then, how we can keep advancing on the road to holiness and heaven, how we can keep going in the right direction, so that we don’t slip back into our worldly and sinful attachments. How, we might ask, can we live prophetic lives on fire with the love of Christ? How can we seize the reality of the Spirit-filled world in which we live? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!
Our Holy Father Pope Francis asked a very similar question when he canonized St. Junipero Serra at the National Shrine in Washington DC. The Holy Father said, “Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: our hearts grow numb.” And then the Holy Father asked, “We don’t want apathy to guide our lives … Or do we? We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life … Or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves,” the Pope continued, “What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized?”
We hear our Lord’s answer to that all-important question in the Gospel reading from St. Mark. It has a positive side, something we can do; and a negative side, something we can stop doing. First the positive side: those concrete acts of charity that are ready at hand all the time, simple things like giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty. And we should note here how our Lord puts it in the Gospel. He doesn’t say in the passage from St. Mark that we can keep the fire of charity and the prophetic spirit alive merely by ourselves giving someone a cup of water in His name. Yes, we should do that, and our Lord enjoins us to undertake very concrete acts of charity many times throughout the Gospels: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and so forth. But here, our Lord tells us to recognize His work when others undertake these acts of charity.
John complains to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” And our Lord replies, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in My name who can at the same time speak ill of Me.” So the positive side of keeping the prophetic spirit alive and aflame in our Christian hearts involves concrete acts of charity; our own, but especially our recognition of our Lord at work in the charity He shows all around us. More on that in just a moment.
As for the negative side, we must not be afraid to remove what stands in the way of the work of the Spirit in our life. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. … If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. … If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Our Lord speaks radically because He wants us to trust Him when He needs to sever our attachments to sin right at the root. A radical attachment needs a radical uprooting, because the Holy Spirit who dwells within us needs us to be free and radically unattached if we are going to be His instruments.
So then, how do we keep advancing so that we don’t begin regressing? Very concretely, our Lord shows us that we can keep advancing on the road to holiness simply by recognizing the good things He’s doing through the Holy Spirit’s instruments all around us. You might think that to be obvious, but at least for this preacher, it’s pretty easy to miss the good things the people closest to us are doing—my confreres, your spouses and family members—because their charitable good works don’t look exactly like I expect them to. “Hey Moses, those guys are prophesying over there in the camp, but they’re supposed to be over here in the tent if they’re going to prophesy!” “Jesus, teacher, that man was driving out demons, but he’s doing it his way. He doesn’t follow us.” The Holy Spirit works the good things of God, great things of God—great things of God for my good, and for your good. If we are courageous enough to be radically unattached to this world of sin, radically unattached to preconceptions about how the Holy Spirit is supposed to move and work; if we are courageous like that, then we already live in that wonderful world of God’s prophetic people, a religious community, a household, a family that is alive in the Spirit, holy, and advancing on the path to even greater holiness, and heaven besides.
Our advancing along that magnificent path to heaven is really not so much our advancing as much as it is our being drawn by God’s goodness all around us, being drawn by that same Holy Spirit alive within us, being drawn by the Sacrifice upon this altar, until we join Him and look upon Him, and reign with Him as prophets, priests, and kings in that Heavenly Kingdom where He lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.
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