A prophet is not without honor

Readings: Ez. 2.2-5; Ps. 123; 2 Cor. 12.7-10; Mk. 6. 1-6

Jesus says in today's gospel: "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, among his own kin, and in his own house." Why does that happen?

Bernie Madoff, over a period of twenty years or so, stole about $65 billion dollars of investors' money. Some people had suspected that Bernie Madoff was operating a giant Ponzi Scheme: nine years ago, an SEC investigative lawyer alerted his superiors; six years ago, a second SEC investigative lawyer submitted the same concerns with data, and she was told to focus on another aspect of the Madoff Company; and two years ago, a competitor of Bernie Madoff alerted the SEC with similar suspicions. The SEC authorities, however, did not listen to these warnings of these people, who might be called prophets in the popular sense of the word. Why did they not listen?

In 1968, Pope Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae Vitae, i.e., On Human Life. The pope said that intercourse between husband and wife was to be open to the possibility of new life, and was not to be obstructed by means of artificial birth control. He warned that if the "contraceptive mentality" took root that four main consequences would result. First, a great increase would occur in the number of venereal diseases, abortions, divorces, and out of wedlock pregnancies. Second, people would experience the lie that actions do not have consequences; that people would learn to act irresponsibly. Third, women would become viewed increasingly as objects of pleasure. (I don't need to point out that one-third of the "hits" on the internet are for pornography.) Lastly, Pope Paul warned that some public authorities would use means of artificial birth control to enforce population control, and that an "anti-child" mentality would take root. (You know that China has a policy permitting one child per family, that Europe is literally dying because not even one of its two dozen countries has a replaceable birth rate, and that the claim of overpopulation is generally a myth, and that Africa and Latin America suffer from vast underpopulation.)

The publication of Humanae Vitae caused a firestorm of reaction. Clergy and laity vociferously objected to this teaching. Now, forty years later, commentators assert that Humanae Vitae was the most prophetic ecclesiastical document of the 20th century. The word prophecy comes from the Greek verb "pro-phai-ne-o", which means to speak on behalf of God. Why did many priests and laity not accept the pope's teachings and warnings?

May I share a few personal observations, please, on why people seem hesitant to accept secular or sacred warnings. Everybody, myself included, thinks he or she is correct, and no matter what some authority says, many people persist in their own opinions. Most people involved in institutions, whether governmental, financial, ecclesiastical or educational, don't like change; the message is "don't rock the boat; don't upset the apple cart." Many people hope for the best, and don't want to admit that a situation could be as bad as some prophets say. Some people prefer to live with their heads in the sand, and not to deal with difficult issues; they hope that problems will just evaporate, and that everyone will live happily ever after, as in fairy tale stories. Many political-minded people want and need public adulation, and the power that accompanies popularity. Most people live in the present, and do not foresee consequences; most people do not have a long-range view that looks into the future. In defense of prophets, very few people are blessed with the convictions and courage that it takes to stand alone, and to risk one's own job, and one's own status in the community.

Why do I say these things? it is very easy for us today to ask somewhat self-righteously about the people in Jesus' time, "why did people take offense at him; why did they lack faith in him?" Yet, look at us. The Church still teaches its opposition to artificial birth control, abortion, homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage; opposition to the death penalty, opposition to unjust wars, opposition to mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, and to the misuse of the environment. Yet no matter which major political party is in charge of the government, each party promotes some activities that are contrary to Church teachings. In our private lives, what are the teachings of Jesus and his Church that each of us ignores? What are the teachings that offend us? As Jesus said to the people in his times, would he say to us in our times about his and the Church's teachings: "A prophet is not without honor except among his own kin, and in his own house"?

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley