Experiencing the love of God through the prophets

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Stained glass window displaying minor prophets. Shutterstock

“The words were as silent as seeds opening one at a time in his blood.”

These are the words of Flannery O’Connor as she describes the moment in which the protagonist of her novel, “The Violent Bear It Away” becomes a prophet.

I rather like O’Connor’s description! Her words harmonize with the description of the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel: “The fundamental experience of the prophet is a fellowship with the feelings of God … a communion with the divine consciousness. … The prophet hears God’s voice and feels His heart” (“What Manner of Man is the Prophet?”).

July 14 – Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Am 7:12-15

Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14

Eph 1:3-14

Mk 6:7-13

Through both of these descriptions of the prophet, we begin to see his experience of communion with God. And through this, we receive an entry point into the prophet’s message. The prophet knows God’s presence and makes the invisible God audible through his work of prophecy (cf. Heschel). And, thus, when we read the prophets, we know that it is God who speaks to us.

For example, O’Connor’s description does not only harmonize with Heschel’s, but taking the two together, we can receive a fuller sense of what Amos tells us this Sunday: “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”

In this Sunday’s passage, Amos is prophesying in the “royal temple” in Bethel, which is also the “king’s sanctuary.” There, the priest, Amaziah, tells Amos to go away and to cease prophesying: “Off with you … flee.” The rejection of the prophet Amos amounts to telling God to “go away” (from his own temple, ironically!) and to “be quiet”!

Amos, as one who is in fellowship with God’s pathos and in “communion with the divine consciousness,” feels God’s rejection. And he reveals God’s rejection to Amaziah, reminding him that it was “the LORD [who] took me” and sent me.

God as author of our history

Being able to recognize God’s presence and God’s pathos through the prophet, however, tells us about much more than the moment of God’s rejection in the temple at Bethel. Understanding the prophet’s experience better also helps us see a more fundamental truth: God is the author of our history.

God is our beginning and the end for which we were made. Though we often reject him, God’s providence provides for us all along our journey toward him.

For example, we hear about God’s providential work within our history in this Sunday’s psalm: “Kindness and truth shall meet … / Truth shall spring out of the earth, / and justice shall look down from heaven.”

Read within the context of God’s providence, we hear the psalm praise the Incarnation through which heaven and earth were brought into intimate communion.

And thus, we also hear about the life of the Church that sprang from God’s Incarnation. We hear about the Church as the “place” where the Lord himself will give his benefits: “In love, he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will” (Eph 1:4-6).

Let’s say that again: In love, God chose us and destined us for himself, even “before the foundations of the world” (Eph 1:4). How? Through Christ, even before we knew him, even before the Incarnation had occurred! This was God’s loving plan.

The Church, my friends, is a blessing of God’s providence. Here, in the Church, God provides for us. In this historical moment of today, the Lord himself is indeed with us! He is not only speaking to us, but loving us and giving himself to us. Not only do his words become audible and visible to us in the Church, but his very life mingles with our own.

Catherine Cavadini

Catherine Cavadini, Ph.D., is the assistant chair of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology and director of its master’s program in theology.