Lucio Boccacci

In the Footsteps of the Prophets

God chose his prophets by calling them to a particular vocation. A prophet discovered his vocation through an experience of God that marked his existence from that point onward. Since then the prophet discovered God’s action everywhere, both in his life and in society.

Only three prophets in Scripture describe the moment they first felt called by God: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. They narrated their “vocation story” to make themselves and their message more authoritative among the people. God called this prophetSo we better listen to what he has to say! 

God commanded the prophet to speak. Have you ever read, “Thus says the Lord”? The prophet spoke the words God inspired in him.

Yet the prophet didn’t just say something new. He also spoke for his own sake. He wasn’t a mere telegraph for divine revelation. What he taught was really a projection of his own dialogue with God. Hence, the prophet’s most intimate life was at the service of the message he had to proclaim. So what a prophet communicated revealed a lot of the personal drama between him and God.

Every vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life follows this same pattern. The same God that called his prophets continues to call his priests and consecrated. Like the prophets, he calls them to a particular vocation, through a series of God-inspired experiences that change the course of their life. Like the prophets, these encounters with God validate their vocation and their message.

Yet their message is not just God’s message. It’s a message that’s born in the drama of their relationship with God. That’s in part why priests and consecrated are “mediators”. They not only give witness to the Word of God as it bears fruit in their life. But through their response to that Word, God freely binds himself to a microcosm of the drama of being human.

 

Jeremiah, the “Intimate Prophet”

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying…

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 

But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.

(Jer 1:4-7)

The call of the Prophet Jeremiah didn’t come in a vision, but “the word of the Lord came” to him (Jer 1:4). The word of the Lord was the decisive force behind his prophetic vocation.

And God chose Jeremiah even before he formed him in the womb. Even so, Jeremiah claimed that he was too young and that he didn’t know how to speak. He wasn’t afraid of God’s presence. He was afraid of the greatness of his mission. He worried about how the people would respond to God’s message.

He didn’t understand that what was indispensable for God was that the prophet delivers God’s word. The emphasis was on God’s word. Circumstances didn’t matter. It was God’s way of making himself present when the people became hard of heart. The prophet was the middleman of this drama. And the deep suffering of this particular prophet made for some beautiful and profound words of Scripture (cf. 15:10-21; 17:5-11; 20:7-18; 31:31-34). That’s why he’s called the “intimate prophet”.

 

My mother once told me a story about me similar to these verses in Jeremiah. When she was noticeably pregnant with me, my parents visited Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado Mountain. And she climbed all 220 steps to reach the summit! There she entrusted me to Providence in exchange for a safe delivery and a healthy baby. At that moment only God knew the life he had traced out for me. Let’s say my mother got more than she asked for.

The first moments I can remember being called was in High School. I went through a “second conversion” thanks to various books I read on apologetics and the Scriptures. Like Jeremiah, my vocation has always been linked with the Word of God. For this reason I’ve always been close to the Scriptures.

It’s particularly in the Scriptures that I feel my soul makes contact with God’s will for my life. I see reflected in God’s Word insights into my life and mission. And what I wish to communicate with my preaching and my example is a life immersed in the Word of God.

My hope as a priest is to help souls encounter God through his Word. It means a lot to me that as a priest God speaks his Word to his people through the reading of the Gospel at Mass and through the preaching of the homily.

I hope to make the Scriptures come alive in the hearts and minds of young people. I hope to teach them to understand what they read in faith. I hope the Scriptures will become for them what it has become for me: an occasion for prayer to encounter God and discover his will.

 

The Boy Prophet and his Mother

46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:46-49)

Like Jeremiah, God also predetermined Jesus’ specific mission before Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:26-38). And we can hear echoes of the calling of Jeremiah when we read the passage of the boy Jesus in the Temple. But unlike young Jeremiah, the boy Jesus didn’t shy away from transmitting God’s word.

Jesus’ deliberate (and perplexing) remaining behind in the Temple can only make sense if he was first called by his Father. This was a response to a calling from God to a new experience that broke with his simple past and forever changed his life in Nazareth. From then on, he would see the normal occurrences of daily life as both an occasion for a future parable and an allusion for the Kingdom of God.

This was Jesus’ vocational moment, even if he was always infinitely aware of his Divine Sonship. Now it became public, and it took on new urgency.

From the prophetic standpoint, his action at the Temple was a typical prophetic sign. It was a completely awkward and enigmatic act. But that’s the way God asks prophets to get our attention. And I think Jesus got his parents’ attention!

The word that best describes Mary’s presence in the Gospel is “accompaniment”. She accompanied the fulfillment of God’s will with her submission in faith. And she accompanied Jesus during all his life, from the womb to the tomb and beyond. This episode in Jesus’ life was no exception, even if for the moment she didn’t understand his actions. One day she would understand that her life was intertwined with Jesus’ mission.

One thing that Mary didn’t understand at the time was that Jesus was walking in the footsteps of the prophets. He revealed nothing short of his own experience of God: “I must be in the things of my Father”. This is his version of the prophets’ famous and repeated phrase: “Thus says the Lord”. But he would say, “Thus says, my Father”. From the onset of adolescence, Jesus’ placed his most intimate life at the service of the message he had to proclaim. He revealed the dialogue between him and his Father. He revealed the drama of the mission that he was to fulfill. Mary was slowly catching on to the role she would play in that mission.

 

I had my own little “prophetic action” when I was a boy. The only reason I know about it is that my parents got it on tape. It happened at my First Communion. Like the boy Jesus, I did something that somehow revealed God’s path for my life.

Pictures were taken in front of the altar after Mass. At that moment I didn’t shy away from getting up on the altar. So I got behind the altar and I used my new first communion prayer book to pretend I was celebrating Mass.

I don’t know why I did it. It was some sort of joke. At least I know my younger brothers enjoyed it. Yet God enjoyed it for a different reason. He knew someday it would come true. It was one of those moments that can only be explained in hindsight. Somehow this innocent little boy followed what appeared to him as an instinct. He was simply doing what he was designed to do by the Father in heaven. Like Jesus in the Temple, this was just a little preview of things to come.

 

I always grew up in an environment where God’s voice could be heard. I thank God for all of my family. Yet I have much to thank the faith example of both my mother and my grandfather.

My grandfather taught me how to see God in in his Creation. He was a retired petroleum engineer that witnessed to his faith through his example and words. I tried to follow that example as I studied chemical engineer at the University of Oklahoma. I sought to find God’s hand behind all the physics and math and chemistry. And I ended up seeing God’s hand leading my life in a new direction.

Yet my mother had a more direct influence in my faith. She always had a profound devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. And I was always close to my mother. So it was natural that her devotion to Mary rubbed off on me.

In High School I decided to make a total consecration to Jesus thru Mary. I followed the booklet designed by St. Louis de Montfort. I fulfilled all the daily prayers up to my consecration on Dec 8, 1999. That was my last year of High School. It was the first time I consciously and clearly took note of my calling to the priesthood.

Likewise, Mary has always been at my side throughout all the drama of my vocational discernment. She accompanied me even from before my consecration. Indeed, I grew up praying the rosary at my mother’s side. I asked for her protection for my vocation when a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima visited our family. I still have my picture with that statue. Before entering college I promised a daily rosary for the rest of my life. And then in the seminary I always received special graces on Marian feast days. My superiors even changed my assignment once on Our Lady of Sorrows (Sept. 14).

Most importantly, I remember one day I traveled home from my summer internship at Phillips Petroleum during college. I worked at a nearby city. So every day I traveled about an hour to and from work. I listened to the “Bible on tape” on the way to work. And I prayed the rosary on the way back. I thought about the calling to the priesthood.

And then God touched my heart in a very direct way. I knew I was called beyond all doubt. I wept in the car as I prayed the rosary. I waved to the other cars passing me on my left. I was okay! These weren’t tears of sadness and despair. They were tears of profound joy and freedom. I finally accepted God’s call.

Then there was a weekend during college that I took off to visit my family. At some point I went shopping with my mother. On the way back I signaled I needed to tell her something. I rarely spoke like this, so she got the hint it was serious. She parked the car in front of the garage. And that’s when I told her I wanted to be a priest.

She looked ahead. She sighed. And when she got a hold of herself, she said, “I know”.

How did she know? I suppose mothers have a way of knowing these things. Mothers don’t just see what’s on the outside. They have an intuition for what’s happening in their children’s life. Certainly that intuition comes from their union of body at pregnancy. Both God and our mothers know us when we’re being knit in the womb. Indeed, it’s a unique gift mothers hold dear.

Luke the Evangelist understood this. That’s why he twice wrote that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (cf. Lk 2:19 and 51). Mary learned from her experience with Jesus to accompany the vocation of every priest and consecrated. She’s the mother of all prophets. And she’s my mother too.

The Prophets of Pope Francis

 

So I continue onward towards my diaconate and then my priestly ordination. I have the assurance of God’s Word and Mary’s accompaniment. God has filled my life with the signs of a vocation.

I ask for your prayers, so that I continue forward in my vocation to be a priest consecrated in the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi family. With the priests and consecrated at the helm, we all make up a family of prophets.

We’re lucky to have Pope Francis at this moment of our history. At one point Pope Francis delineated his expectations for the year of consecrated life. High on the list was the consecrated person’s call to prophecy.

The Pope counts on priests and consecrated to “wake up the world”. A prophetic witness is actually demanded of everyone. But it’s a special duty for priests and consecrated.

The Pope called prophecy the “distinctive sign of consecrated life”. Our life becomes a prophetic witness because we follow the Lord in a special way. We live the way Jesus lived on earth. And Jesus lived with heaven in sight. That has to strike a chord!

The Pope said that prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events. So when they are faithful to this calling they become a living prophetic sign of God’s will for the world and for every individual. God is able to touch the lives of so many people through their prayer, example, and apostolic ministry. That’s why the Pope sees this as a priority for consecrated life.

A religious must never abandon prophecy. And he must know that a prophet is never alone. Just like he promised Jeremiah, God promises this to us:

 “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).

boccacci-lucioThe first moments I can remember being called was in High School. I went through a “second conversion” thanks to various books I read on apologetics and the Scriptures. Like Jeremiah, my vocation has always been linked with the Word of God. For this reason I’ve always been close to the Scriptures.