The Mass readings for today focus on discerning prophets and understanding the nature of power for Christians. We live in an age where we have become jaded by self-proclaimed prophets – from TV evangelists, to end-of-the-world millenialists, to those within the Church whose morality has come into question. We live in a world where the powerful rule – the politically and financially powerful, as well as those who tap into psychology to dominate others more subtly. This article reflects on the Gospel readings about prophets for today and on St. Paul’s message about power in weakness.
The Church teaches us that revelation unfolded gradually from God to man, which we can trace through the fullness of Salvation History, and which culminates in the revelation of Christ: God communicates himself to man gradually. He prepares him to welcome by stages the supernatural Revelation that is to culminate in the person and mission of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. (CCC 51)
While this took thousands of years, from the covenant with Abraham, Noah, Moses, the Patriarchs & Prophets, the revelation comes to fruition – and is complete – in the incarnation and revelation of the Christ: God has revealed himself fully by sending his own Son, in whom he has established his covenant for ever. The Son is his Father’s definitive Word; so there will be no further Revelation after him. (CCC 73)
Hence, how do we discern prophets in our age? There are no new prophets, merely those who faithfully teach the revelation of Christ. So, ignore those who claim new insights, new revelations; they are, in principle, false. The gradual stages of God’s revelation came to fullness and completion in His Son, Our Lord.
Does that mean there is nothing left to learn, to have revealed to us about His revelation? NO – the infinite nature of the divine ensures we have more than a lifetime of learning – of unpeeling the layers of revelation – a process we will complete in the afterlife.
We live in an age that especially values the powerful. Those who have “made it big” in their professions, and who reap the notoriety and wealth worldly success can bring, provide dazzling cultural icons. Children, teens and young adults cling to pop culture figures, while the more astute adults may admire the wealthy business owner, the generous philanthropist – the list goes on. A new kind of physical prowess has captivated pop culture too – the ultimately physically fit individual. There’s power yoga, power boxing, power walking, turbo workouts. We also admire the psychologically-powerful – those who know themselves, can assess others, can move people to their position, can handle life’s challenges with resiliency.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul shares an experience where he faced spiritual attack, and he pleaded with God to give him strength. The Lord responded to him: My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12: 7-10) St. Paul then reveals his enlightened awareness about where he derives his strength: in weakness.
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.
As Christians, we learn that in our weakness the strength of Christ can fill us. We do not generate powerfulness on our own; instead, we empty ourselves in weakness to be filled with God. That power which God gives us he never gives to make us strong, just strong enough to empty ourselves in serving others. St. Augustine said that the world is divided between those who act selflessly to serve others and those who exhibit a lust for domination.
May you learn God’s power through your weakness, and may you enjoy a lifetime (and eternity) learning the fullness of His revelation.
I leave you a favorite song, His Strength is Perfect, by Stephen Curtis Chapman.