Prophet, Yea or Nay

I note that Cardinal Stafford’s “apocalyptic” remarks have made the blogosphere rounds, including an apologetics attempt from John Allen at NCR.

In one of the more sensible salvos of this discussion, Cathleen Kaveny and her discussion group ponder the nature of “prophetic rhetoric” and the cardinal’s remarks, and what, if any, overlap exists.

Ms Kaveny concedes her term is less about theology and more about rhetoric.

I would concur. I’ve been trying to think of something sensible to say about this. And I read lots of sensible viewpoints that I could sign on to in assent. One commenter mentioned we should be wary of “opportunistic” prophets and any prophecies that “cost the prophet nothing.”

Indeed, maybe Cardinal Stafford is just saying angry things to an angry audience. Heck, terrorists and half-time athletic coaches on the losing end are in that boat. Is Cardinal Stafford engaging in less of prophecy and more of a pep talk for the disillusioned followers? That would be my take.

How prophetic utterances have evolved ovder the centuries, even if the words have (translations notwithstanding) stayed the same. Isaiah preached to a stubborn nation, and in later incarnations, Isaiah offered words of comfort to an exile-battered people. Do we receive the words as the Israelites were meant to hear them? Consider how we treat them liturgically. After the Psalter, no other Biblical book is used more for setting texts to music than Isaiah, ranging from The Messiah to “Be Not Afraid.”

It would seem a prophetic utterance must be about communication. It’s more than the source of the words. It also depends on how people receive it. Isaiah once had a cauterized mouth as God’s prophet. Now we sing for people to “come to the water.” Have the Israelite prophets completely lost their meaning in sanitized strains of sacred and liturgical music? If we’re looking deep, perhaps not. Hopefully not.

Being a prophet would seem to include the aspect of relationship. The prophet is the unclean, undesirable, unwanted dinner guest everybody hopes will leave soon so the fun and games can be cracked out. But there is still a relationship. Prophets engaged people directly, not from behind podiums in front of a loyal studio audience.

You have to be in a relationship to be a good coach, too. I attribute this rhetoric to “half-time speech” to fire up the troops. Nothing prophetic whatsoever in the words.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Prophet, Yea or Nay

  1. I’m just back from a much-needed fast from Catholic (the institutionalized religion as opposed to universal faith)folderol and appreciate your perspective on the Stafford stuff. Your blog is well named! God bless you.

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