During Advent, we hear from Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets a message of hope for the arrival of a Messiah.
But prophecy didn’t end in ancient Israel.
All Christians are tasked with being contemporary prophets by virtue of their baptisms, according to Father George Heyman, director of continuing education and associate professor of Biblical studies at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.
He explained that one becomes a prophet -- as well as priest and king -- through the anointing during baptism. That anointing is modeled after Jesus' anointing and is so important that he encourages his students to look up and celebrate the dates of their baptisms.
"That was the day you were made like a little Christ," he remarked.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that priests, kings and in rare cases prophets were anointed in ancient Israel.
"In Israel those consecrated to God for a mission that he gave were anointed in his name. This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively. It was necessary that the Messiah be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at once as king and priest, and also as prophet" (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 436).
But what does it mean to be a modern-day priest, prophet and king?
What is a prophet?
Contrary to the common perception that they were people who predicted the future, Old Testament prophets were social commentators, Father Heyman said.
"Essentially, they reflect the lived situation of God’s people and interpret what the Lord is speaking to them at that moment," he said.
Prophets in ancient Israel confronted leaders with the fact that they weren’t doing what they were supposed to, observed Father Ed Dillon, assisting priest at St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Livingston County.
"Prophets would speak truth and let the chips fall where they would," Father Dillon said.
Father Heyman noted that prophets live a good news/bad news lifestyle of giving comfort to those who need it, but also rendering God’s judgment in a way that often challenges society.
"You don’t want a prophet who lives next door to you," he quipped.
Because the end times they prophesy will be difficult, Father Heyman noted that prophets are not often warmly received.
"It’s like an airplane ride through a thunderstorm, but we are going to get to the destination because God is the pilot," he said. "With that, we have the courage to undergo the storm."
Isaiah, who accompanied the people of Israel through exile, didn’t predict Jesus, but his prophecies gave people hope for a Messiah, Father Heyman said.
"His prophecies were fulfilled in a Messianic vision of who Jesus was," he said.
A prophet must be an artist, theologian and politician in order to have his or her message received successfully, Father Heyman said. He noted that prophets also must humbly reflect on their own sinfulness.
The servant king
Humility is a key ingredient in Jesus’ model of royalty.
Jesus was a servant king who served the poor and downtrodden, demonstrating his respect for the inherent dignity in all people, Father Heyman said. In doing so, he turned traditional models of royalty on their ear.
"The true king is one that doesn’t sit on the throne and issue edicts," the priest said. "He is king by ministering to the poorest of the poor."
Father Thomas Mull, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua and St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield, said that Christians have a responsibility to respect others' dignity.
"As Christian people, we are given certain gifts and talents from God, and we have a responsibility to put them into the service of others," Father Mull said.
Even modern-day monarchs continue to bear responsibility for the good order and well-being of all the people of the kingdom, said Father Norman Tanck, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Irondequoit. He explained that the tradition of anointing royalty has continued even into modern times, said citing the example of Queen Elizabeth II, who was anointed during her coronation.
And as royalty in the kingdom of God, Christians are called to be responsible for all their brothers and sisters in the kingdom, he noted.
"It really recognizes our dignity not only as human persons but as children of God," Father Tanck said.
The priestly sacrifice
Whereas kings often lived separately from their subjects, priests lived with the people and stayed close to them, Father Dillon noted.
Priests are called on to make things holy, to sacrifice and make offerings to God, and to enter into God's mysteries rather than struggle to understand them, Father Heyman said.
He noted that the priestly role conveyed by our baptisms contrasts with our world of chain retailers and instant gratification. When we make things holy, we sacrifice our personal desires to devote ourselves to God. For instance, we devote time on the Sabbath to God, which keeps the day holy.
"The priestly role is to acknowledge that it’s not about you, it’s about others," Father Heyman said.
Like Christ, priests’ lives are a sacrifice, he said. Similarly, we understand the Eucharist and our lives to be sacrificially oriented because they are offered in service to God and neighbor, Father Heyman added.
"The priest offers back to God the Father the gifts that God has given to us," Father Tanck noted.
Living our baptisms
So how can we live out our baptismal call to be priests, prophets and kings?
While there’s no one single way to do so, Christians, because of their baptisms, are called to champion mercy, justice and forgiveness, and to take the risk of speaking out when those values are not evident in society, Father Heyman said.
He noted that Christians today are sometimes seen simply as those who are nice to others rather than as those who challenge social conventions.
"We have a responsibility of reading the signs of the times in the church," Father Mull said. "We have a responsibility to ourselves and our family."
Additionally, as a prophetic people, we are called to deepen hope in the lives of others, Father Mull said.
Father Tanck said one way that people could live out their calls to be priests, prophets and kings is by being open to change in an ever-changing world.
"How do we let go of the things that are keeping us from moving forward?" Father Tanck asked.
Those who are successful at being priest, prophet and king combine traits of each role, Father Dillon said. For example, Old Testament prophets sometimes criticized priests of their eras who opted for a pastoral approach rather than for speaking the bold truth to people.
However, sometimes a gentler approach is required, he said.
"You can kill people with the truth if you give people more than they can handle," Father Dillon said.