Shortly before the spirituality class that I facilitate went on indefinite hiatus due to the pandemic, we finished our study of The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister, OSB. It was published in March, 2019 in response to the signs of the times.
The book deals with the characteristics of prophets, using examples from biblical times up through the present. While some think of prophets as people who tell us our future, prophets are not fortune-tellers. They are more often those who speak hard truths to draw the community back to its original ideals when it has strayed or who call for growth and positive change in times of selfishness or apathy.
As we studied the book week after week, we often drew parallels between the text and things we were experiencing in the present. These parallels have become even more evident now that the world is dealing with the pandemic.
We see examples of prophetic voice and action, such as Doctor Li Wenliang of China, who in early December alerted colleagues to cases of what appeared to be a new virus, only to be detained by police for several days for “spreading false rumors.” After his release, he went back to work at the hospital. He contracted COVID-19, sent out another medical alert online, and died from his illness in early February. He acted as a prophet in giving warning of danger and was maligned by authorities and ignored, as often happens with prophets. As sometimes happens, he also became a martyr, with his death serving as stark testament to the truth of his message.
Sister Joan calls us to look at what is happening around us and to stand up for truth, whether that means being a prophetic voice ourselves or standing in solidarity with those who are prophets, speaking truths that are considered threatening by the powers that be. We have seen this recently in the United States where some of the governors have been belittled by the president for their science-based and prophetic public statements about the present and likely future effects of COVID-19 in their states. New York State, where I live, is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States and our governor, Andrew Cuomo, gives daily public briefings. He is very straightforward and makes it clear what is evidence-based and what is his opinion. It is very upsetting to have the president disparage him – and even more upsetting that the president contradicts the science and facts because he thinks it makes him look weak or bad personally.
It is time for all of us to have the courage to follow the prophetic voices or, if so called, to be a prophetic voice ourselves.