Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment and send you the Christ already appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of universal restoration of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.
For Moses said: A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you. Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people.
As Saint Luke tells the story, Jesus fulfilled the promise of Deuteronomy; he is the prophet like Moses whom "God has raised up for you from among your own kin," When the people of Jerusalem saw the crippled man walking and dancing and praising God and heard Saint Peter's explanation, they realized they had missed the opportunity. Now heaven "has received him until the times of universal restoration" and they must wait until he is sent again.
But Luke is less interested in Jesus' Second Coming and more interested in Jesus as prophet and his Church as a church of prophecy.
When I studied theology in preparation for ordination, less than ten years after the Second Vatican Council, our professors and my classmates were optimistic about the future. Following the Second World War, surviving nations erected great international institutions to create a more stable world. The United Nations, the World Court in the Hague, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hoped to promote broad economic and educational equality for future generations, regardless of their national identity.
After the horror of Nazism, nationalism appeared to wane and people began to think of themselves as citizens of the world. In the late 1960's photos of the Earth from the Moon, and growing awareness of our compromised atmosphere helped us to re-envision the world without boundary lines or great walls.
Many of the bishops of the Council shared that optimistic vision. The Church hoped to work with the secular world of government and business for the progress of all people. Our prophetic voice was not raised in opposition to government and business but in harmony with them.
By the 1980's that optimism had begun to sour. Banks eagerly loaned money to corrupt government leaders who, too often, fled justice into comfortable exile, taking their bank accounts with them. Visions of equality and opportunity disappeared as a new class of super-rich appeared. In response the Church developed its "preferential option for the poor." The voice of prophecy is the cry of the poor, opposing the godless authorities who believe only in The Economy and promise only Security.
But much has changed since the 1980's as the middle class "comes apart" into separate groups. There is the college-educated middle-management, middle class with stable marriages who doggedly adjust to changing technologies and survive in a fluid job market. And there is the slipping middle class, plagued by disabilities, addictions to cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs, failing marriages and poor health, disillusioned with religion and increasingly dependent upon government entitlements. (I meet the more fortunate one's served by the Veterans Health Administration.)
The bright promises of the post-war years have faded and succeeding generations are less wealthy than their parents. The Boom Generation will never enjoy the retirement benefits of their parents and grandparents; their children cannot expect even a reliable health care system.
Predictably, nationalism has reappeared in North America and Europe. It promises a return to the past but portends a future of endless war.
What does the prophetic church say to our time? The testimony of scripture assures us the prophet will always challenge established political, social and religious structures. The Holy Spirit drives Abraham's children from the church, synagogue or mosque into the streets. The pious cannot be assured of religious comfort if they harbor animosity against anyone, rich or poor, native or alien.
Pope Francis advocates for refugees and exiles. Many people have heard his appeal. sometimes defying their own governments to offer sanctuary to God's children. Other Christian leaders have championed the unborn, the elderly, the imprisoned and innumerable minorities.
But most bishops and priests have dedicated their lives to shoring up the failing institutions of parishes, Catholic schools and retreat houses. We still believe faith is practiced primarily in the local face-to-face, palm-to-palm, side-by-side community. There is no virtual church.
Saint Peter warned the people of Jerusalem, "Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people."
It is certainly difficult to practice fidelity in these changing times. The old recommendation for the Christian faithful, "Pay, pray and obey." satisfies no one. We must daily ask the Lord, "'What do you want of me today?" as the Holy Spirit forms, instructs, inspires and guides a prophetic church through the chaos of our time.