Daily Reflection
February 2nd, 2000
Eileen Wirth
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Presentation of the Lord - Feast 
Malachi 3:1-4
Psalms 24:7-10
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Today's readings pose a question which has troubled humanity for centuries.  Who is an authentic messenger from God and how will we recognize him/her?  "Who is the king of glory?" asks the Psalm. 

The reading from Malachi speaks of the messenger that the Lord is sending while in Luke's Gospel, Simeon and Anna recognize the infant Jesus as God's promised messenger.  But what about our own times?  How do we recognize God's messengers? 

As a former newspaper reporter now teaching journalism, I'm automatically skeptical when I hear someone claiming to speak for God or indicating a personal pipeline to God.  And what does God say about your claim?  Have you verified it?  Can the rest of us?  Many of these self-proclaimed prophets have a transparent agenda. They want to use their connection with the Lord make money, get elected to office or proclaim the superiority of their group over other people.  They're politicians who have discoverd that Jesus is a niche market among Iowa presidential caucus voters (credit Maureen Dowd of the New York Times for that great line), televangelists on the make or fundamentalists of all persuasions who think that God speaks and listens only to them and their kind.

We tend to see through these types rather easily and dismiss them, as we should.  Yet we need prophets suggesting God's wishes for us in our own day. We need people who cut through the clutter and cant and point us in the direction of authentic spirituality.  Ironically, the people I see as God's true messengers today are quite different than most of those who award themselves the title.

My favorite modern "prophet" remains Pope John XXIII, the pope of my youth who used the simple power of love to tear down walls of hatred and fear that had divided people of different faiths for centuries. 

Those walls were very real when you grew up in a small town divided into two hostile religious camps, one labeled "Protestant" and the other "Catholic."  I didn't even KNOW any non-Catholics until I was well into high school ­  in a town of 7,000.  Was it a sin to go to a Protestant church for anything but a wedding or funeral?  We honestly weren't sure.  And the bias cut both ways. 

Then Pope John magically started to change all this.  Suddenly non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians alike, were people whom we should love and whose faiths we should respect.  We discovered that God loved atheists even if they didn't acknowledge it.

We Catholics were not the only ones who wept when he died on that sad June 3, 1963 (my birthday).  The entire world had felt the force of Pope John's goodness and mourned a beloved friend and father. 
Now THAT'S a prophet! 

There are many others.  The authentic ones read like a litany of the good of our era ­ the Martin Luther Kings, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, etc.  We all have our favorites.

I think especially of Mother Teresa who felt a prophetic call from God telling her to leave her conventional convent life in India to work among the poorest of the poor.  We adopted our son through her and were personally touched directly by her great work. 

I also think that God has humble messengers in every city and village in the world ­ those transparently good people whose example helps others be better people.  They too are messengers, even when they are far too modest to claim the title. 

They're people like my recently deceased friend Kathy who couldn't go a day without helping someone or my Mother who has never seen a wrong without feeling a duty to alleviate it. 

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