|Old Testament Prophet Elijah: Speaking Truth to Power|
When I was in school I spent a great deal of time at the graduate level studying the prophets of the Old Testament. They were people like us all, sinful and weak who, nonetheless, were called by God to preach during troubled times to the king, then to the king’s priests and prophets (who were on the king’s payroll and who, therefore, spent their days tickling the king’s ears with only what the king wanted to hear) and finally, the people, all of whom had turned away from God.
The prophet who intrigued me the most was Jeremiah. I did a fifty page research paper on the account of his “call” from God (Jeremiah 1: 4-9 and 10). The more I dug into the passage the more I wanted to know. What I wanted to understand most of all was what he was feeling deep inside. When he was called as a mere youth to prophesy against the hierarchy of ancient Israel, did he have that acid-churning kind of feeling that most of us get in the stomach when faced with what we perceive to be a huge, difficult and risky task? Whether it’s God or the boss who is doing the calling, do we not feel so uneasy during those times that we just want to say NO and be done with it? That’s what Jeremiah did when God called him to preach repentance to His people. No, he said. No...I’m too young...No...I don’t know how to speak...No, I don’t know what to say...NO, NO, NO….You’ve mistaken me for someone much bigger and better than myself.. NO! But God said, “You will”, and that was it. Jeremiah opened his mouth and from that point on his life became a living hell: abuse, rejection, ridicule, ostracism became the norm. Yet preach he did.
|Jeremiah, the "weeping prophet"|
TV and happened upon a program in progress. The scene at that moment pictured a man in a robe and with head covering sitting on a donkey and watching what looked like an ancient city in the distance engulfed in flames with smoke billowing up from its skyline. Then it dawned on me...that was Jeremiah witnessing, as God had warned through his prophecy, the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem. But it was the look on his face that spoke volumes to me...a look of sadness, remorse, pain. His scrunched eyebrows revealed his innermost thoughts…”God tried to warn you, but you just would not listen….”
Jeremiah’s job was to call God’s people to repent and turn from their gross sinfulness or face destruction, but they refused. The Babylonians took care of the punishment part, burning their city, scorching their produce fields, killing their babies, gouging out the eyes of their once great king and leading him in chains and shackles up north to captivity. Many people were killed while the elderly and walking wounded were left behind to suffer a slow death from starvation and disease. Jeremiah’s thoughts were of sorrow and regret...never did he haughtily think, “I told you so.” To the contrary, the haughtiness of the king and his personal priests and prophets towards God’s messenger and their refusal to respond to his divine message would lead to their destruction.
In May of 2014 after being forced out of the two parishes I had served as a priest I began to hear and feel a call to do something I initially dismissed. My Lord had the audacity to call me to go preach repentance to the man who had recently stripped me of the parishes I served, my priestly stipend and other benefits, especially my much needed health insurance. Can you believe that He wanted me to go to B. Bransfield so as to get him to repent of his misdeeds and offer him the chance to help save his soul? I was being called to honor the Truth that God wants all of His people to be saved, even Michael Bransfield.
For several days He continued to invade my private prayer space and then doubled down on His efforts and spoke to me as I tried to sleep. He was persistent. He would not leave me alone until I called the chancery to set up a meeting with B. Bransfield.
Then, I had peace. The meeting was set up for the end of May 2014 at a meeting room on the first floor of St. Mary’s hospital, Huntington.
I arrived an hour early with no clue as to what I would say. What amazed me was how calm I was. No shaking knees or rapidly beating heart or dry mouth or sweaty palms of hands. I was about to preach repentance to a powerful Catholic bishop with no idea about what I would say. So I begged the Lord for His merciful help. “Please give me Your words, not my own.” Within the hour B. Bransfield entered the meeting room. He sat across the table from me, shook my hand and asked how I was doing. My heart was calm and filled with compassion for him. At that moment, I felt as though he was my brother who was in need rather than my bishop. I opened my mouth and began with a series of accusations each followed by a call to repent:
“Bishop you sexually abused teen aged boys when you taught in Philly and our people know that, you must repent…” He responded that he had not been charged, but I responded that the only reason he hadn’t been charged and convicted was because the statutes of limitations on the crime had expired…
“Bishop, you wrongfully terminated the employment of one of the holiest and most loving men in our diocese, George Smoulder, when he did not carry out one of your commands immediately (George had been for many years in charge of the diocese’s ministry to the poor).” Once again, he mumbled something. I begged him to repent.
“Bishop, you purchased a dining room table for your Wheeling mansion at a cost of $30,000…” Again he mumbled.
“Bishop, you dine frequently at the very upscale Chop House in Charleston where you have a rented table and wine rack, one of the waiters told us so…” He began to become agitated.
“Bishop, you renovated for yourself a second mansion in Charleston near the pastoral center…” He responded that he needed a residence in Charleston at which he could stay when he was working on the southern end of the diocese. But I countered, “And you renovated a lavish suite at the retreat center in the eastern panhandle!” His face became red…
“Bishop, you spent so much money on our property in Huttonsville...did you have to buy dozens of horses???” By now he was furious.
The meeting went on for an hour. I called him out for a total of seven injustices that he had or was currently committing against Our Lord and His people. At the end he stood up, walked towards me and screamed, “And you need to go to confession!” I responded, “Bishop, you have got to repent before it’s too late.”
He stormed out of the meeting room and made a beeline for the passenger side of his Diocesan-owned Cadillac Escalade and his priest driver drove him away. I felt such deep sadness for him.
So, why did the Lord call me, a sinner, to preach repentance to a Catholic Bishop?
Was there no one holier or more righteous or qualified to do so? His superiors all knew about his sinful lifestyle because they had received hundreds of letters from Catholics throughout the state of West Virginia. Why didn’t any of them try to save B. Bransfield’s soul? Why didn’t the chancery Monsignors attempt to rescue him? What about the vicars throughout the diocese….they surely knew what was going on all these years?
It has been said, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Like the king of Israel and his royal minions, the former bishop and his chancery Monsignors enjoyed incredible power. They had total control over the “big bucks” and no one dared to challenge them. Many of the vendors who did business with the chancery recognized that there was a huge cash cow exploding with milk, the supply of which had no end in sight. They paid homage to the bishop and his chancery staff.
Many of the people in the pews had placed the bishop and his crew on a very high pedestal. Their mantra was, “Pray, Pay and Obey.” While the occupants of the 14 million dollar new chancery became drunk with power, our beloved Church in West Virginia suffered and deteriorated. No one cared to look at the train wreck that was just a short distance away.
I did not think for one minute that I could change this horribly unjust situation. I am a nobody in the ecclesiastical scheme of things! However, when the Lord called, what else was I to do but surrender to His desires?
When Amos was called to prophesy, he told God, “I am no Nabi” (Hebrew for prophet)...well, I am definitely no Nabi!
Isaiah said “I can’t speak for you, God, because I am a sinner and my lips are unclean.”. God said, “I will cleanse your lips...speak.”
Jeremiah had what seemed to me the best excuse....”I don’t know what to say”, and neither did I initially but God did provideth, I just had to furnish for God’s use an opened mouth.
Throughout each prophet’s ministry, they learned important lessons:
When God speaks, you had better respond.
There are no excuses we can give God that work.
The prophet, and we, must learn that the mission is not about us. We are only instruments at the Lord’s disposal. What the outcome might be must never be a preoccupation for the spokesperson. God is in control...not us!
My prayer is that B. Bransfield, those who were on his payroll, former Cardinal McCarrick and all who enabled them will humbly repent and seek forgiveness for their many sins against God and His holy people before it’s too late. If they don’t, Jesus’ words in Luke 17:1-2 which have already convicted them will also condemn them:
1 “He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.
2 It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause scandal to one of these little ones.”