Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Isaiah ~ Advent Prophet

"The prophet is a man who feels fiercely. God has thrust a burden upon his soul and he is bored and stunned by man's fierce greed. Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. God is raging in the prophet's words. The prophet is intent on intensifying responsibility, is impatient with excuses, contemptuous of pretense and self-pity. His tone, rarely sweet and caressing , is frequently consoling and disburdening; his words are often slaying even horrid - designed to shock rather than edify."

THE PROPHET ISAIAH LIVED 750 YEARS BEFORE JESUS. Those Christian communities which share a common Lectionary (book of readings) become familiar with Isaiah during Advent, and many of the texts sung in Handel's Messiah come to us from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

But as Isaiah is a long and layered book of the Hebrew Scriptures, it takes time to become familiar with its many themes. In the first section Isaiah warns the ancient Hebrews against corruption born of prosperity, the worship of false gods and mistaken and false alliances. Reading these pages we might move along thinking that this is just about 'them' - hardly mindful that God's Word is perennial and has everything to do with us - as families, as nation, as Church.

But before we read a little of Isaiah, notice in the painting above that the prophet has spirit-wind blowing on him and that the Hebrew message he shares is in a bold font. His eyes are clear and intense; his rolled up sleeve reveals a strong forearm. This prophet means business. Here's an Isaiah sampler:

The faithful city,
what a harlot she has become!
Zion, once full of fair judgment,
where saving justice used to dwell,
but now assassins!

Your silver has turned into dross,
your wine is watered.
Your princes are rebels,
accomplices of brigands,.

All of them greedy for presents
and eager for bribes,
they show no justice to the orphan, 
and the widow's cause never reaches them. (1:21-23)

The county is full of horses, its chariots are unlimited;
the country is full of idols.
They bow down before the work of their hands,
before what their own fingers have made. (2:7,8)

Because Zion's daughters are proud
and walk with heads held high
and enticing eyes-with mincing steps they go,
jingling the bangles on their feet (3:16)

Woe to those who add house to house
and join field to field until there is nowhere left
and they are the sole inhabitants of the country. (5:8)

What might the prophet say today?

1 O nation once faithful,
creating friendships
which serve your purposes.
Making money from war -
calling the death of
my littlest ones,
collateral damage.

I told you in the time of Moses,
no gods of metal,
yet you profit richly
from technology and
preparations for war.

2 You are addicted to
products and
you believe will
erase your aging.
Walgreens and Rite-Aid are your shrines.

3 You deny me the sound of
your voice,
in partisan politics.
Personalities are your priests;
your new
Word of the Lord.

4 The country gorges itself
with huge portions
while the children
weaken and starve.
Charity is your cheap justification,
but I say justice.

5 Your billion dollar stadiums -
your new cathedrals
while emptying churches fall into ruin,
the housing stock of the poor

6 A people unwilling  to stop the money-wheel
they work and shop round the clock -
as their families break down
in alienation and loneliness,
as the children I give them
become enslaved.

Fun and entertainment
have stolen away your hearts from me.
The ancients of Mesopotamia worshiped stars;
you dance with them.

8 The nation that flies to me in calamity,
has forgotten my name.
Claiming prestige in what they wear -
they celebrate
the designers of underwear.

9 Your capitalism like children in riotous play,
profiting some; leaving many behind.
A quarter of your children are poor.
Overtaken by greed,
you're made toxic by possessing.

10 I weep that you've destroyed and poisoned
the paradise-gift I created for you.
In your appetite for things
the plants and animals vanish.
The earth bleeds from below the waters
as you've raped her for your gain.

11 Portending a great gloom,
the blind-darkness of their love of guns
supersedes their love for me.
O that they were as zealous
in the care of their children
and the world beyond their window.

12 I sent my Christmas angel
with the message of No fear,
the heavenly army
singing Peace on earth.
You answer
with an evasive bomber
above the clouds:
raining angel of terror.

13 You see the elderly poor unfed,
the child without a doctor,
the mother with no shelter.
They shiver in the parks and
on the streets of your
domed and white-pillared headquarters.
Still you throw money like incense
at the billion dollar flying weapon.
Indeed, stop insulting me:
"One nation under God."
I will tell the truth:
One nation under Lockheed, Boeing and Gruman."

The Book of the Prophet Isaiah ends with the 66th chapter. In those verses God declares his desire to make something new: God coming to gather the nations and languages to witness God's glory. 

Maranatha! Lord, Come Quickly 
(I Corinthians 16:22)


  1. And where are the prophets today? Thank you for this modern interpretation of Isaiah. It is an eye opener. But should we not try to be witnesses to the good in the world also. How do we walk this earth only dwelling on the negative?

  2. Where are the prophets? Prophets are always killed or exiled because they make powerful people nervous - like the nun in South America who got in the way of those who were plundering the trees of the rainforest. She was killed. And yes, for sure, we're to witness to the good wherever it's to be found - but the darkest secrets remain. And that we have a tendency to call good - bad and bad - there's a lot of work to be done. See how a certain group in our own country turned against the pope when he even questioned the sacred cow of unregulated capitalism. Could I suggest reading the LaStampa Interview Pope Francis gave recently after the Evangelii Gaudium Exhortation. Long live the Pope! Look again at the quote which defines the prophet at the head of the Isaiah post. There's a little prophet inside you, inside me, waiting to share his/her voice.

  3. I have been increasingly aware of all the things you write here, Father. To Chris Diasparra I would just add that Pope Francis is wonderful example of someone who understands the blight we humans are in but at the same time witness to the joy of our faith. This must be the fruit of a deep and reverent prayer life. Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!

  4. You see, when the priest sex abuse scandal broke some years ago, it was the secular press, The Boston Globe, that broke it open. And in many ways and places the Church resisted and even denied the accusations. There are many locked closets and draws that need to have their contents divulged. A great many confessions to be made all around: in the nation, the corporate world, the world of banking, the Church world, the political world. Like scrubbing out an infected wound - only afterwards can healing take place. This pope is opening it up - and more than a few people are uncomfortable. He's gone so far as to tell the Swiss Guard, "If you hear bishops gossiping, stop them." The Truth sets us free, Jesus tells us. The Truth with a capital T - which means God's truth.

    1. I wonder how many closets would have been opened or never shut had Pope Francis been making the decisions when the priest sex abuse scandal came to light. Let those who have something to hide be uncomfortable with the thought of a good cleansing. Or those who live with their heads buried in the sand who don't want to confront the ugliness. Leave no stone unturned Pope Francis!

  5. Yes, Father, I want to be more like a modern day prophet. And I greatly admire Pope Francis. I was just wondering if we are somehow missing the prophecies of today just as many of the people paid no attention thousands of years ago. A cycle of missed opportunities.

    1. I expect we miss a lot. We're no different from the ancients in many ways. We might hope to be better at it with all of our technology. So what am I to do? Start paying more attention. Read more - especially things that take me out of my comfort zone.

  6. How many times have the words of Isaiah and other prophets been heard at Mass? I never really thought how they might sound to us today. This makes it so realistic. It is like reading 'Prophets for Dummies' so that we may all understand the true meaning of his message. I will think more about this in the upcoming weeks at church and not just let the word pass through me.

  7. "Prophets for Dummies". I wasn't thinking of that when I wrote the verses, but now that you mention it. But it was very good for me too to write it.

  8. Advent is a time of hope. Pope Framcis is giving us all great hope and direction. Maybe one day we will be restored to a nation "Under God" and all that it truly means.

    1. For what it costs to create one bomb, we could build more than 30 schools in the Middle East or Africa.

  9. The Pope wants to help the poor and feed the hungry. This is an understandable desire. How can we contribute? Give food to a pantry? Volunteern in a soup kitchen. Give a few dollars to the beggar on the street? Thousands starve each day. There are people who work tirelessly to help them. It is never ending. As a nation we need to be more aware. Do we need that designer underwear? Save your money and do something good with it. Do we need bombs that would destroy the world? Put that money into a healthcare system that would really help the people who can't afford it. We can all do our small part. We musn't lose hope or the desire to make a difference.