The Gospel Matthew reveals how we are to receive prophets: “whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” (Mt 10:41)
It takes discernment to identify the prophets of our time, because there can be false prophets who want to mislead us. I would like to recognize two modern day prophets who walk from the Bible into our modern day. One is doing amazing ministry in education, Dr. Art McCoy, who is the superintendent of Education in Jennings, MO. In the 90’s his childhood neighborhood north of St Louis was taken over by gangs, poverty, and crime. The education system was a flop. People were calling the entire region the “dropout factory.” Like a prophet he has been mobilizing his community to see a new vision. Dr. McCoy has a contagious optimism that appeals, he can truly inspire with mere words. He comes from 4 generations of pastors, he loves the Bible and loves to push people beyond their potential. He spreads the enthusiasm of God with every word, yet in a public school arena he must avoid religious terms like “Jesus”, “God”, or “Holy Spirit.” He drops biblical quotes like “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30) and everyone knows who he’s referring to. His words are seeds of hope dispersed like “Johnnie Appleseed.” However, not all people respond to his same level of optimism. Opponents stand in the back with arms crossed and roll their eyes to mumble, “we’ve tried that one before.” Others criticize, “This guy is crazy and his head is stuck in the clouds” and people refuse to budge. He rises to the challenge and positions himself to enter the personal space of his critics and then confronts them with love. I don’t know any other way to explain it, but he calls out their hopelessness and stands in their space and to say, “you know I love you; you know I care about you? Maybe you have some truth I need to yield to and maybe not, so let’s hear it.” And he gives them opportunity to voice their truth, and just loves on them. He’s not afraid to hug someone. Many years back the US Embassy assigned Jennings, MO refugees from Rwanda. It was following after the ’94 genocide, when 600 boys flew from Somalia to New York and on to St Louis seeking safe haven and peace from their war-torn homeland. One hardened child soldier was a diamond hunter from Sierra Leon who had killed many people and pillaged many resources, he was a cold-hearted kid who had been through too much. The boy was only 15 years old and had a diamond tattoo recognizing his troubled history. Like an Old Testament prophet Dr. McCoy stood in his space and called him out. He could not find words to push back the darkness covering this boy, so he walked up to him and grabbed his shoulders, and then squeezed him into an all-out hug. Over the span of a long drawn out awkward hug many tears were shed, and it was a gut cry, an ugly cry and a mourning that comes from deep inside of a person. “Salleah” was moved and transformed by the encounter with Dr. McCoy. Later he moved in with a white family, always honored and respected Dr. McCoy, graduated from school, and later went on to do amazing things.
The other prophet is Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR who delivered some prophetic words before his death on January 7th, 2017. 45 years ago he was part of an incredible audience of church leaders including Pope Paul VI in 1975 at St Peter’s Basilica. There were many prophetic words that rattled solid institutions thought to be invincible. In 1976 Fr. Scanlan received this prophesy which is particularly apt for what Catholics are going through today especially in light of churches closing their doors, the public square shutting down, and financial institutions reeling from record losses. Below is the prophetic message shared 44 years ago:
“Son of man, do you see that city going bankrupt? Are you willing to see all your cities going bankrupt? Are you willing to see the bankruptcy of the whole economic system you rely on now so that all money is worthless and cannot support you?
Son of man, do you see the crime and lawlessness in your city streets, and towns, and institutions? Are you willing to see no law, no order, no protection for you except that which I myself will give you?
Son of man, do you see the country which you love and which you are now celebrating—a country’s history that you look back on with nostalgia? Are you willing to see no country—no country to call your own except those I give you as my body? Will you let me bring you life in my body and only there?
Son of man, do you see those churches which you can go to so easily now? Are you ready to see them with bars across their doors, with doors nailed shut? Are you ready to base your life only on me and not on any particular structure? Are you ready to depend only on me and not on all the institutions of schools and parishes that you are working so hard to foster?
Son of man, I call you to be ready for that. That is what I am telling you about. The structures are falling and changing—it is not for you to know the details now—but do not rely on them as you have been. I want you to make a deeper commitment to one another. I want you to trust one another, to build an interdependence that is based on my Spirit. It is an interdependence that is no luxury. It is an absolute necessity for those who will base their lives on me and not the structures from a pagan world. I have spoken and it will take place. My word will go forth to my people. They may hear and they may not—and I will respond accordingly—but this is my word.
Look about you, son of man. When you see it all shut down, when you see everything removed which has been taken for granted, and when you are prepared to live without these things, then you will know what I am making ready.” Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR 1976
A prophet will explain the will of God, and by prophesy give messages directed to the future. The prophet’s words are presenting a new vision. A new way to interpret events around us. More importantly to reposition God on the dashboard of our lives. Maybe God has been in the backseat for a time, but this can be no more. Now God must move to His rightful place, to the center of our lives. All our efforts must be to lean on Him for everything. “My soul finds rest in God alone … He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62)
Its never easy to welcome the unsettling message of the prophet. Yet, we are called to move where the Spirit leads and welcome the message of the prophet, and with it the prophet’s reward.