Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations), Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Paragraph 31
“The…laity…These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church: Paragraph 1268
“The baptized…share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission.”
The Latin words Lumen Gentium, mean “Light of the Nations”. Lumen Gentium is a document of The Second Vatican Council, which was a meeting of all the Bishops and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in the early A.D. 1960s.
The phrase “Light of Nations” is found in the Bible Book called Isaiah. Isaiah was written about 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. These words refer to a coming Messiah/Christ who will deliver a gospel of Love, and empower his followers to spread that gospel among all people everywhere in all ages.
This document is entitled Lumen Gentium because it is the practice of the Roman Catholic Church take the first two or three words of the Latin language document itself and use that as its title. The first words found in Lumen Gentium are Lumen Gentium cum sit Christus; or, in English, “Christ is the Light of Nations”.
Among other things, this document says, all of us lay baptized persons share in the prophetic ministry/mission/function of Jesus.
In the official title, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”, the word Dogmatic has a special meaning. When attached to a document of a Council of Bishops, the addition of the word Dogmatic means that the words of that document, to which the word Dogmatic is attached; that those words are the most authoritative words the Church can state about that given topic.
In this case, the full and final authority of the Church states that all baptized lay persons are to be prophets of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When Christians speak of prophets, they are referring to the prophets of Israel, The Old and New Testaments of the Bible tell us that during the period between 1800 B.C. and A.D. 30 there were roughly fifty male and ten female prophets.
In the three hundred year period between 800 and 500 B.C., a group of prophets arose whose words were recorded in books which are found in the Bible. These include the familiar Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah; about 15 in all.
The job of the prophets was to deliver God’s messages to God’s people. These prophetic messages were inerrant, meaning, these messages could direct, without error, people to a life of faith lived in God. These messages were not always factually correct. For example, sometimes these prophecies included predictions of future events which did not come about. This may recall to mind a scene in the movie Matrix where the prophetess gives the man named Neo a message which does not seem to be factually correct. After Neo leaves the presence of the prophet, a man named Morpheus says to Neo that the job of the prophet is “To say exactly what you needed to hear.” By comparison, sometimes we tell children things which are not factually correct, but which they need to hear; such as Santa Claus and George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie”.
The content of the prophetic messages were usually quite similar. Their contents and the purposes of those prophetic messages were:
- Hope: To instill in people a hope of salvation by means of a covenant of love with God; the hope that all evil will be washed away.
- Everyone: To inform us that all people everywhere would be offered the clear opportunity to be redeemed from unfaithfulness; relieved of their hardness-of-heart.
- Criticize bad behavior: To clearly point out and criticize our unfaithfulness, our worship of false values, our misplaced need for the approval of other human beings, and our avoidance and exploitation of the poor and needy. To call us to changes in their lifestyles and behaviors.
- Energize: To energize and empower us to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God; by pointing out that a messiah would come and the Kingdom of God on earth would be established.
The care of the poor and needy, as a community emphasis and as a national obligation, is an idea initiated by the prophets of Israel. Other individual persons, throughout history have spoke of caring for the needy. But it is the prophets of Israel whom, with a unified voice, make this a central aspect of religion, social involvement, and politics.
The messages given to the prophets by God, which the prophets delivered to God’s people, were intended to prepare us for the full and final revelation of God.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ/the Messiah, is the full and final revelation of God. By His words and actions and experiences, Jesus delivers to us everything we need and can know about God. Prophecy, in the sense of revealing new things about God, ends with Jesus.
The message of Jesus, the prophetic statement of Jesus was:
- God is both a God of justice and mercy to and for everyone. His way is kindness. He loves us like a parent loves a child.
- The Kingdom of God has begun. God redeems the world and save it from evils. This is accomplished by the Paschal Mystery; that is, by the life and passion and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
- We are right with God; that is, we are saved or redeemed or justified, if we accept God’s free gift of salvation.
- We are able to love God and we are called to love God.
- We are able to love and are able to love other persons. Specifically;
- We are to love those we consider enemies. Love accomplishes what violence can never accomplish.
- We are to care for the needs of the poor.
However, just because something is “fully revealed”, does not mean it is “fully understood”.
Prophecy continues after Jesus, in the sense, not that prophets after Jesus reveal new things about God and God’s will for us; but that prophets after Jesus help others understand what is already fully revealed in and by Jesus.
To help others understand and accept what Jesus has revealed is a job of the baptized laity. Our prophetic mission is to our children, our spouses, our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our work-places. We are empowered to help others understand the life-style to which Jesus calls us, and to realize the fulfilling life Jesus makes possible for us. We are called to deliver this message, by word and/or action and/or witness.
The revelation we are called to deliver, no longer changes. The content is fixed. However, the places and times and locations and situations and conditions into which the prophetic revelations are to be delivered; these change. The diversity of these conditions and situations requires that contemporary language and expressions and metaphors be used to communicate this fixed revelation.
Specifically, our prophetic words and actions are to remind people of the messages Jesus already delivered.
- God loves us, without qualification. It is a free gift with no strings attached. All we need do is accept it.
- Accepting this gift leads us to understand and appreciate God.
- Further, we will act lovingly toward all other persons.
- Specifically, we will become aware of the material, spiritual, emotional, social, and political needs of the poor. We help them with acts of charity. We help them by acts of social justice; by becoming involved in social and political activities which benefit the poor and needy. We confront those who misuse power.
When our prophetic acts, in word and action, are positive both in content and expression; these will be sources of hope and happiness for those who would listen. // However, even when positive, the receivers may still react negatively to our positive messages of hope and happiness, because behaviors need to be changed to become hope filled and happy; and many people resist change because of the pains change sometimes requires.
We will, at least initially, doubt our ability to engage in this prophetic mission to which each and every one of us is called. We will doubt our ability to speak the right words. We will fear the reactions of family and acquaintances. We will be unsure if our actions will be correct and rightly understood.
It is then we must remember two things. As St. Paul wrote, “it is through weakness, that power reaches perfection”. In this way, those to whom we are sent will not be convinced by our smoothness, urbanity, popularity, charm. It is our ordinariness and integrity and kindness which will lead others to listen to our witness to God’s Word of Love. A second reason we should not worry is that the Holy Spirit will deliver to us the words we need to say. The New Testament says this in four different places.
We have been assigned the prophetic mission of sharing the Gospel of Love. God has given us this prophetic mission. Our magisterium has affirmed that we have this right and duty to witness to the Gospel of Love.
The reason we, the lay-baptized, have been chosen and are sent to do this, to be prophets in the world, is because we possess competencies. We are familiar with and expert in the common world, the work-a-day world. We are ones best suited to witness the Gospel of Love, to our spouses, our children, family members, members of our social and political communities, in our workplaces among our co-workers, and those with no or little familiarity with the baptized faith community.
We, the unordained lay baptized are assigned these tasks, because many of the ordained priests and deacons often lack our specific competencies, in the areas of raising children, living with and empowering a spouse, acting as a common equal in the workplace and political gatherings and social situations. Further, the duties of the ordained are to the Church, the faith community of the people of God. This demands a great deal of their time and energy, which they are not then able to use in a prophetic ministry with the familial, common, work-a-day, secular world.
What follow are some suggestions for those members of the baptized laity who wish to engage in their prophetic mission:
- [Continuing Education] We can only give what we have. We can only share what we know. We must choose to engage in ongoing adult education in our Christian faith. Regularly reading of the Bible and Christian literature is helpful. Having a spiritual mentor or director is helpful.
- [Prayer and Meditation] When we sense we are being called to engage in prophetic ministry with and to others, we ask God for guidance. We ask God to help us know what we can do and what we should not do.We pray for courage. We pray for the knowledge of the appropriate words to say, manners to witness, actions to take. In meditation, we listen to God’s responses.
- [Consideration for the audience] We need to be familiar with the lived-life realities of our intended audience, so that we can choose the right time to say things and the right words to use.
- [Experience, Strength, Hope] When it is clear we are to reach out to others in a prophetic manner, it is best that we focus on sharing our own experience, strength, and hope. [Descriptive rather than prescriptive focus.]
- [Advice] Though there are times to tell others what we think they should do, we tend to avoid giving advice unless we are asked to do so or empowered by some authority to do so. We tend to avoid using the words should/must/ought.
- [True, Necessary, Kind] And when we feel we should teach/provide insight/give advice, we ask ourselves first; “Is what I am about to say: Is it true? Is it necessary for me to say it? Is it kind?”
- [Moderation] Jesus and his followers regularly rested from his ministry. Jesus spoke of the harm one might do by reacting to and attempting to correct every evil s/he saw or imagined. A healthy amount of spiritual activity usually is accompanied by joy, light-heartedness, appreciation, laughter. If these are absent; its probably time to step back from prophetic activity and rest.