Priests must use their ‘prophetic’ voice

By Peter Finney Jr.

Pope Francis has called it “the globalization of indifference,” the idea that human suffering on a massive scale, such as the drowning deaths of immigrants trying to flee Eritrea and Somalia for a better life, has no meaning or connection to those living in freedom and prosperity.

Brownsville (Texas) Bishop Daniel Flores told 435 Louisiana priests at a Sept. 20 Mass at St. Louis Cathedral that such a glaring lack of solidarity with those who are suffering is foreign to the nature of God, and priests need to be “prophetic” by informing and even challenging the consciences of their parishioners to explain why caring for the vulnerable is so crucial in understanding and living out the Gospel.

“What we learned by the goodness of Jesus, which attracted the people who loved him so much, was exactly the fact of the one thing God can’t do – God cannot say, ‘Your problem does not interest me,’” Bishop Flores said about the prophetic nature of the priesthood. “They knew it. That’s why they came. That was perhaps the most profound and intense prophetic announcement that his mere presence announced. The weakness of God – the one thing he cannot say, he will not say – is, ‘Your problem does not interest me.’”

A ‘prophetic’ voice

Bishop Flores said the church must be prophetic in challenging “three of the more intense wounds in our Western society right now” – abortion, racism and care for immigrants. He said, sadly, these are issues many priests do not even talk about from the pulpit.

“And, I say, ‘How can you never talk about that?’” Bishop Flores asked.

Each of the three ills has to do with a “throwaway culture,” he said.

“The throwaway culture comes at reality – using it and disposing of it when it no longer serves the purpose,” Bishop Flores said. “It’s a culture so rampant it throws people away. It despises what it cannot use.

‘Prove yourself worthy’

“We have a culture that starts from (the position), ‘I don’t have to deal with you until you prove yourself worthy.’ If we could address that attitudinal issue even among our own people, we could have a comprehensive immigration reform within the year. … Why are we starting this conversation with the idea that you have to prove to me that you deserve to be listened to? The unborn don’t even have a chance.”

In Jesus’ public teaching ministry, Bishop Flores said, he was prophetic by what he preached.

“As I like to say to folks, Jesus said more than, ‘Have a nice day!’” Bishop Flores said. “There was content to what he said. There was a reason people followed him. There was a reason why other people were angry with him.”

Very often, even within the church, there is an unfortunate “tension” of competing emphases contained in Jesus’ teachings.

“(There is a tendency) to kind of enjoy the disconnect,” Bishop Flores said. “You’re either a preacher of social justice or you have holy hours all the time. People like to separate us, and sometimes we find it more comfortable to be one or the other. The great challenge is how to be a preacher of the justice of God during the holy hour – because the word will not be denied.”

The goodness of Christ

Jesus was a compelling force – both for love and for hate – because he cared for those on the margins and was not afraid to point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Bishop Flores said.

“Jesus rarely showed anger, and it certainly wasn’t with the poor and the sick and the prostitutes,” he said. “The anger of Jesus could at times show forth the full fury of the charity of God, but usually he saved that for the Pharisees.

“The poor, the rejected, the outcast, the lepers – they loved him – because the prophetic announcement that is the Word made flesh himself is summed up in, ‘Come to me, and I will give you rest.’ They loved him because he was good.

“We are saved by the weakness of God. All of us, brothers, not just the people out there, but we, right here in front of this altar. We’re saved because Christ will not say to any of us, ‘Your problem does not interest me.’”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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