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The Ideas

Authority and prophecy

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03 July 2021

This month we present the “earthquake” women.  These are the women who have caused unexpected tremors and challenged the accepted equilibrium of their time, and who have sometimes paid dearly for the price of this ensuing turmoil. There are examples of this in all religions, the Scriptures and the Koran recount all about them for example. For the Church, for which these women sometimes gave their lives, they were considered rebels, some even heretics.

“They are women who were protagonists of their own destiny, who challenged power and clashed with (male) hierarchies to pose problems that later proved to be prophetic. Some were only rehabilitated after their death. Perhaps theirs was a kind of “ecclesial martyrdom”.

These stories do not simply represent another frontline in the “war between the sexes”. Although male chauvinism has undoubtedly played a role in their fate, it is not just about that. The basic question is whether authority is open to recognising prophecy, especially when it presents itself, as it often does and as it did in the case of these women, through channels outside the places of power. Prophecy breaks patterns and creates disorder.  It makes what is accepted fundamentally uncomfortable, and it is not afraid to question habits and structures. Listening to a prophet always represents a risk, because it implies being willing to leave one's comfort zone and convert oneself personally and institutionally.

Prophecy is not opposed to the law, but simply precedes it. In addition, contrary to what is thought, prophecy and authority are not opposed to each other either. For Christians they are both gifts of the Spirit, who asks everyone to set out on a journey. Authority, however, must learn to welcome and discern. Within the Catholic Church, it must distinguish between Tradition, derived from Revelation, and traditions founded on outdated cultural patterns. Authority must not be afraid to abandon customs or certainties. Instead, in the welcoming of the newness brought by Jesus, it must recognise the voice of the Shepherd even in the lowly and marginalised, and who are often the bearers of a sensus fidei that is a path to new life for the Church itself. On the other hand, prophets have to overcome the temptation of self-referentiality. The gift they have received is for the communion and service of the People of God and this becomes a guide in the travail of discernment.

Do we need prophetic answers to today’s many questions? The question is whether we are ready to recognise them, and to discover a horizon and a perspective for the good of all in the questions posed by women.

Marta Rodriguez