John the Baptist was the last of the prophets in the Old Testament. As we heard in today's Gospel, he was the cousin of Jesus and just a few months older. The task of all prophets is to call people to God, help them recognize God, understand God and understand what following God's Commandments means but not necessarily predicting the future. There is no question that John the Baptist did that and was that. You and I each have been called to be prophets in our own time, in our world in our own unique way.
Getting an understanding God is a lifelong task and sometimes it was easier to understand God when we were very young. Being a grandfather is always fun in helping our grand children to progress in their understanding of God. I recently read a story or a little girl sitting on her grandfather's lap as he read the story of John the Baptist from The Catholic Children's Bible. From time to time she would take her eyes off the book and reach up and touch his wrinkled cheek. She would alternately stroke her own cheek, then again his. Finally she spoke up and said, "Grandpa, did God make you? He answered, "God made me a long time ago. Then she asked, "Grandpa, did God make me too?" He responded, "Yes honey, God made you a little time ago." Feeling their respective cheeks again she observed, "God's getting better at it, isn't he?" God did a great job when he made John the Baptist and an ultimate job when he made Jesus.
John recognized Jesus even before he was born and jumped inside his mother Elizabeth, when Mary who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit her. We aren't told of any time that John and Jesus were together, but even though they lived quite a way apart, about a 3 day walk, I would bet they did spend some time together like many cousins do. Scripture as well doesn't tell us how they gained their understanding of God and their spirituality, but they both ended up as preachers. One a prophet and the other a prophet and him who we know as the Messiah. You might say, as the little girl did, God got better at it. Both were not afraid to tell the government leaders, their church leaders, like the Scribes and Pharisees, and those known as sinners at that time, like the tax collectors what living God's Commandments meant. John's basic message was repent and prepare for the Messiah who is about to come. His specific final message to the King was that it was wrong for him to unjustly divorce his wife.
Jesus' message was live the Commandments and the spirit of Scripture. He told them and us, the letter of the law kills and living the Spirit of the Law brings life. Essentially he told them that the added 613 laws of the Old Testament Scriptures weren't important anymore but it was important to live the spirit of those laws. As we know their messages cost them their lives.
You and I are called to be prophets like John the Baptist and Jesus. God had a marvelous plan for them and he as well has one for each of us. God doesn't call us to predict the future but he does call each of us to help others to recognize God, help them to understand Jesus' message and know what living Jesus' message means in our world. What preparation do each of us have to fulfill our roles as prophets, for advancing God's Kingdom here and now? Let's see, Jesus spent 30 years as a carpenter and John the Baptist spent many years in the desert eating grasshoppers and the like. We too spend time preparing, being developed, and learning. That time may be as short a time as little Maddi here or as long or longer than like myselfand at just the right time God will reach into our hearts and put in the right position to exercise our calling as a prophet. When will that be? Today, tomorrow and forever. How do we do that? By being ourselves. By reaching out in love and thereby to soften and change the hearts of many.
One of the great prophets of our time is Mother Theresa did and said many good things concerning being a prophet and many of things said on the subject of being a prophet are contained in a book entitled "Mother Teresa, her essential wisdom". Let me conclude by quoting one of her many thoughts on being a prophet. She said: "Don't allow anything to interfere with your love for Jesus. You belong to him. Nothing can separate you from your joy, your strength. If you hold onto that sentence, temptations and difficulties will come, but nothing will break you. Remember, you have been created for great things." One of those great things is to be a prophet. Are you up to it? Am, I up to it?