Listening to the prophets

In November 2007, a group of prominent Catholics issued a call for civility in politics. A copy of their statement can be found on the Web site of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. The statement called on Catholics “to disagree respectfully and without judgment” and was, according to the signers, motivated by a desire to protect “the clergy from being drawn into partisan politics.”

On Jan. 21, another group of prominent Catholic laymen issued a response, which can be found on the Web site of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute ( This statement began by pointing out that justice, not civility, is the highest civic virtue, “As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in “Deus Caritas Est,” “Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics.”

While the Church must never be partisan, it is always called to be prophetic. We must speak the word of the Lord, whether in season or out. Prophets are often moved by the spirit to bring a message of judgment. One has only to read the Old Testament prophets to see that prophets are not always civil; indeed, the English translation often smoothes over some of their language, language which would be not be acceptable in polite company even today.

Prophets may be priests as was the Old Testament prophet Isaiah or in our own day Pope John Paul II, and women religious as were St. Catherine of Siena and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Or they can be laymen like the prophet Amos who was a shepherd and dresser of sycamores when the word of the Lord came to him to prophesy against Israel and its King Jeroboam. Amaziah, a priest at the schismatic shrine at Bethel, complained to the king that Amos was conspiring against the house of Israel and “the country cannot endure his words” (Amos 7:10). The words of Amos were certainly not temperate, let alone civil, but he was a prophet of Lord and spoke as the Lord directed him.

In our own day, the pro-life movement speaks the prophetic word to our nation. Whether at the yearly March for Life in Washington, at smaller commemorations around the country, or at the weekly vigils in front of abortion clinics, pro-lifers proclaim the truth that abortion kills innocent babies and wounds their mothers. If pro-lifers are called by God to speak that word to politicians and candidates, they cannot be silent out of respect or civil to avoid controversy.

In Chapter 33 of the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, there is a clear explanation of the duty of a prophet. The prophet is a watchman who stands guard, always ready to warn the people when danger is coming. If the watchman sees the danger and blows his trumpet and the people do not heed his message, then they will pay the price, but if they hear the trumpet and heed the warning, they shall be saved. However, if the watchman sees the danger and does not sound the warning, then those who were not warned will nonetheless pay for their iniquity, but the Lord will hold the watchman responsible. Their blood will be on him.

The warning -- the prophet’s word -- is, even when it seems harsh and intemperate, a word of mercy. God calls individuals to repentance. The prophet reminds us that God is not only a loving father, but also the just judge of all the universe and on the Day of Judgment, we will all have to answer at the throne of justice. Pro-lifers, who have sacrificed time and energy proclaiming the truth, comfort themselves with the thought that on that day the babies, who were cut off before they could breathe their first breath, will rise up and testify that this man or this woman cared enough to try to save their lives.

God also judges nations. Because a nation exists only in this world, nations are judged in the here and now and it is the duty of prophets to warn national leaders that God expects justice and will not withhold his judgment forever.

It is true that there have always been false prophets, those who offer comfort to those who practice iniquity and who ridicule true prophets. Those who sincerely desire to do the will of the Father will be able to discern the true from the false. In this regard, we can test prophets against Scripture, the teachings of Church, and the writings of the saints.

May all who are called to prophesy speak without fear or hesitation and may we all be wise enough to heed the watchman’s trumpet when it blows.

Dale O’Leary is the author of “One Man, One Woman: A Catholic’s Guide to Defending Marriage.”