It might seem a little premature to celebrate the great solemnity of Pentecost, but there is a valid connection between the spirit of Advent and the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles after Jesus’ return to heaven.
Pentecost truly celebrates the return of prophecy to the Church. It was a belief of Judaism in the time of Christ that prophetic utterances had died out within the Jewish community after the death of the prophet Malachi. Giving witness to this were the sad words of Judas Maccabeus who, after discovering the remains of the vandalized Jerusalem temple, ordered that these relics be hidden “until a prophet should come and decide what to do with them.” Gone where the voices like Joseph, Moses, Nathan and Jeremiah. The Jews were anxiously awaiting a “prophet like Moses” who would come and instruct the people once again in the ways of God. Pentecost marked the end of this time of waiting.
St. Peter’s fearless proposal to the assembled crowds was gladly welcomed, heralding two millennia of courageous voices who would speak to man on behalf of God. The Apostles, through their evangelizing work; the martyrs through their courage in the arena; the early missionaries standing up to pagan hoards; the monks and friars who taught and spoke as Europe came of age; the loyal churchman who withstood the reformers’ wrath; the modern advocates for justice, peace and equality – all of these embody the prophetic office received first by the Apostles, enshrined preeminently by Jesus Christ and foreshadowed admirably by St. John the Baptist. It is clear that prophecy should be a perennial part of Church life in every era, as it was critical to God’s work in the Old Testament, central to the ministry of Jesus Christ, and clearly, if tragically, embraced by John the Baptist in advance of Jesus Christ.
The task of the modern prophet within the Catholic community is the same task entrusted by God to the Old Testament prophets and to John the Baptist. Like them, the authentic Christian prophet always bears witness to Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Mary. The genuine Christian prophet is not merely intent on defending orthodox doctrines and applying time-honored principles. Certainly this is part of prophecy. After all, Jesus himself defined his own prophetic ministry as bearing witness to the truth.
But, with all due respect, perhaps John the Baptist is a better model than the Savior when discerning the true nature of Christian prophecy. John the Baptist was charged from the womb with bearing witness to Jesus Christ. As yet unborn, he leapt with the joy of recognition when Christ entered his presence through Mary. John is the one who designates Jesus clearly as the long awaited Messiah: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John sees this as his chief mission: “The reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” And John makes his own act of faith in Jesus: “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
Even the prophetic faith of John the Baptist is put to the test however. In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, John, in prison, sends his disciples to Jesus to enquire whether or not Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Savior. Was John actually having second thoughts? Or was he kindly sending his discouraged disciples to Jesus to discern for themselves that after John’s demise that man was the one with whom to align themselves. If John did indeed hesitate, it was only a momentary pause. He courageously gave his life, surrendering his head to the chopping block, rather than deny the mission entrusted to him by God — preparing the way for Jesus Christ.
While there are many courageous men and women who stand for the truth in the face of injustice and error, those who exercise the genuine Christian prophetic charism will always communicate dedication to Jesus Christ as the foundation of lasting justice and enduring truth. Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” To seek truth, to desire life, apart from Jesus Christ is the ultimate frustration. Leading others to Christ and through him to truth and life is always the task of the faithful prophet.