“The shepherd’s career is one of solitude,” stated Msgr. Ronald Knox in one of his homilies. He said such solitude “is the seed-ground of revelation; the call came to Moses like that, came to Amos, ‘I was but tending sheep when the Lord took me into his service ... ’”
Little is known about Amos; today’s reading from his book is the only biographical information he put to paper (Am 7:10-17). It reveals he was indeed a herdsman, breeding and raising sheep and, likely, cattle. When Amos was being chased out of the northern kingdom around the year 750 B.C. by the high priest, Amaziah, he said, “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to the company of prophets.” But something happened: “The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophecy to my people Israel.”
“The Lord took me … ” Those are four words to ponder, for they express a deep and abiding theme in Scripture. Disciples of Christ, St. Paul wrote, are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world.” The initiative of God and the passivity of man are even further emphasized in Paul’s declaration, “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.”
This mystery of predestination has led to many tomes, numerous debates and countless headaches, in part because it is caught up in the mystery of God and his perfect knowledge. St. Augustine, however, made an essential point in explaining that those predestined to be children of God are so not because they are “holy and immaculate,” but because God chose and predestined them so they might become so. He also issued this stern warning: “So long as this mortal life endures, no one of the faithful may presume that he belongs to the number of the predestined.” True faith clings to God, while presumption clings to faith in oneself, a sure recipe for ruin.
In addition to election and adoption, St. Paul wrote of redemption and revelation. The redemption is by Christ’s blood, through which our sins are forgiven; the revelation is the mystery of God’s will, made known to us through his favor, or grace. So, what is our part? What are we to do?
The simple answer is: “Do as God commands.” Amos was told to go and prophesy, and so he did. Paul taught, “exist for the praise of [God’s] glory” Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be glory!)
The astounding fact is that we are invited to live in God’s glory. This invitation requires hard work on our part; it demands humility and obedience. The Son demonstrated this humility and obedience in becoming man; he then commissioned the Twelve to share in his work. Jesus called the apostles to “share in his ministry of compassion and healing” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1506). They were, in other words, given the authority to join in Christ’s prophetic work of proclaiming the kingdom, confronting evil and addressing sin.
“There is the double tragedy of the prophet;” wrote Msgr. Knox, “he must speak out, so that he makes men dislike him, and he must be content to believe that he is making no impression whatever.”
Father Hans Urs von Balthasar put it very well: “Their call is a call to conversion, not to success.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.