In today’s second reading St. Paul writes: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks for this is the will of God for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything. Retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” Pretty clear-cut advice, I thought, except for what Paul meant when he said we should not despise prophetic utterances. I needed clarification and found the following.
“Prophetic utterances” is a reference to the spiritual gift of prophecy (See Rom 12:6 and 1 Cor 12:10), one of a variety of gifts of the Spirit allotted “to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (1 Cor 12:1) Paul ranks the gift of prophecy second in importance in the list of spiritual gifts to be found in 1 Cor 12: 28. This New Testament gift of prophecy is a spontaneous, personal revelation from the Holy Spirit reported in human words for the purpose of edification, encouragement, consolation, conviction or guidance (See 1 Cor 14). It must be tested because it may not be free from human error. However, it should not be despised because it is “a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1Cor 12 :6). John Piper (www.desiringGod.org), in an article discussing the relevance of this gift in the 21st century says that its relevancy to all times is made clear in Acts 2:17-18: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy …both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy.”
These words of Paul, written around 50 AD to challenge the Christians of Thessalonica, also apply to us in our time and place. One has only to listen to TV news, read a newspaper, or log on to the internet to learn how deep-seated anger, divisiveness, racial and religious hatred, etc. are tearing apart the people of our nation, and many other countries throughout the world. We must take Paul’s urging seriously and “pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1) in order to play our parts in building up the Body of Christ.
Let us take Paul seriously and pray without ceasing for the graces and gifts we each need in our daily lives to build up, encourage, console and lighten the burdens of those around us. We may never know if we have this special gift of prophecy, but we can certainly, by God’s grace, speak and act as if we do by seizing whatever opportunities crop up in the course of our daily lives for speaking encouraging words and doing small acts of kindness for those we meet on the way.
Barbara Kennedy, SCNY Associate
Barbara Kennedy, a former educator and YMCA Director, is currently retired in Aurora, Colorado, where, until recently, she volunteered in two programs that assist people in need of food and help with housing and utility costs.