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Bible Reflections View Comments

Our Encounters With the Divine
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 9, 2012
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Prophets don’t come into our lives every day, and they don’t always make the sort of impression that the biblical prophets must have made. But if we begin to understand how they experienced God, we might begin to see that even we ourselves have moments of prophetic insight.

Prophets are gifted with an intense personal awareness of God’s love for his people. Their call both inspires and compels them to preach this word to those who will listen—and to those who close their ears. From the time a prophet hears the Word of God, the burning desire is to find the words that will express this eternal message to the people of one time and place.

The Word of God was spoken to John, son of Zechariah, in the desert. He prepared himself not through the temple observances of his father the priest but through desert fasts and prayers. He came out of the desert preaching reform and conversion, telling all that the kingdom of God was at hand. Though his message might have seemed strange and radical to the people who heard him, it was much the same as the message preached by the great Hebrew prophets.

One of these prophets, Baruch, tried to stir the people out of their spiritual lethargy during their long exile in Babylon. He wanted them to live beyond their mourning, their passive longing for the old ways, the old days, their return to their homeland. He told them the Lord was near, the Lord was among them, the Lord would save them. Baruch encouraged the people on the strength of the covenant promise, the promise that had formed them and held them together as a people.

John the Baptist, of whom Jesus spoke of as the greatest of the prophets, desired nothing more than to tell people of the love of God. The call to be a prophet makes demands, asking one to risk everything for the Word. Through his long days and nights in the desert, John must have known the experience of being alone with only the whisper of God’s Word in his heart.

When John found his message, he clung to it: “Prepare the way of the Lord. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” That message still rings true today. We know that in our world, in our families, in our own lives, the Good News of God’s love often gets lost. We need to find ways to return to that word again and again. We need to find ways to share it with our loved ones. We need to let people know love is stronger than fear. We need to hold fast to our belief that God cares for our world, all appearances to the contrary.

We might ask what mighty prophets like Baruch and John the Baptist have to do with our lives today. We find the answer in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. His unabashed love for his community and his joy in the way they have responded to God’s Word comes through in every word. We need to be reminded to value the things that really matter—love, faith, justice, compassion. Paul’s prayer for his community becomes ours today: “My prayer is that your love may more and more abound, both in understanding and wealth of experience.”

The Lord is in our midst. We are called to share our stories of our encounters with the divine in our daily lives. We might think we’re voices crying in the wilderness. We might be afraid people will call us foolish. But in our day, as in John’s, the kingdom of heaven is indeed at hand.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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