He dwells among us: Saints and prophets

The Church does not offer political solutions but must always be the voice of God’s truth

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Cor 9:16)

The words of St. Paul challenge all of us, particularly clergy, to always speak the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ. If the Church is called God’s prophet in the world, it is precisely because it preaches the truth. And like the Old Testament prophets of long ago, the Church in every age challenges us to “listen to the voice of the Lord.” With the canonization on Sept. 4 of St. Teresa of Kolkata (previously spelled “Calcutta”), I am again reminded that God’s saints are also His prophets for our times. Today, more than ever, we need to hear what the Lord is speaking to us through them.

Twenty-two years ago, St. Teresa of Kolkata was welcomed in Washington, D.C., at the National Prayer Breakfast as a living saint for her heroic work among the poorest of the poor. But as she addressed the gathering, not all celebrated her words as those of a prophet of God.

No doubt, as she took to the podium that morning, there was a certain expectation that St. Teresa would speak of poverty as one of the greatest threats to world peace. After all, her incredible work among the poorest of the poor had been recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. And indeed she did speak of poverty, but not just material poverty. And indeed, she did speak of peace, but “not as the world gives.” (John 14:27)

No one, it could be argued, understood poverty the way St. Teresa did. No one wanted to provide for the material needs of the poor the way she did. But in speaking of material poverty, she also spoke of a far greater poverty that afflicts the world — a spiritual poverty that she felt is “the greatest destroyer of love and peace” in the world: abortion. “Any country that accepts abortion,” she said, “is not teaching its people to love but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” This spiritual poverty, she noted, is “the worst poverty and the most difficult to overcome.”

Only six months earlier, another great prophet of our age, St. John Paul II, spoke to a gathering of close to a million people in Denver at World Youth Day in 1993. In his homily on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his words of warning took the dire tone of the Old Testament prophets, “Woe to me if I do not evangelize. Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.”

As I reflect upon the present state of our country, I believe we are seeing, far more clearly than ever, the consequences of what St. Teresa, St. John Paul II, and many other saints have warned.

Like the Old Testament prophets, we hear the warning of “woe” to those who make “the widows their plunder, and orphans their prey” (Isaiah 10:2), and who oppress “the alien and the poor.” (Zechariah 7:10) And the widows and orphans of our day are the pregnant women whose boyfriends or husbands have abandoned responsibility of them and to the life in the womb they helped to conceive. The undocumented, the migrants, and the refugees fleeing poverty and oppression are the aliens and strangers in our midst. And the poor, they are spiritually impoverished, as well as those materially so.

But on the scale of magnitude of “sins that cry out to the Lord,” the greatest is the assault upon the most innocent and most poor of all through abortion. The Book of Revelation offers a horrible image of this sin in its description of the “huge red dragon” ready to devour the child that the woman is laboring to give birth to. (12:1-4) How spiritually impoverished we are as a country when we enshrine and defend, under the banner of “choice,” the slaughter of approximately 20,000 of these holy innocents each week.

How can we remain indifferent to this horrendous practice?

Once before in our history, the highest court in the land ruled another class of people to be less than human. And our country suffered as a consequence the most bloody war in its history: the Civil War. Can our country remain unaffected when it redefines the truth and sanctity of the human person as a creation of God from conception to natural death?

Let us be prudent then, heeding the warning of Jesus about the many false prophets who preach a gospel other than the Gospel of Life: “By their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16)

Speak the truth, I must — we all must. But in doing so, expect persecution. In fact, it is already underway in this country, and is worsening. And while Caesar may demand what belongs to him, we can never surrender to him what belongs only to God: our conscience. (Mark 12:17)

In times such as these, more than ever, we must be God’s saints and prophets.

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