2 Kings 2, 1-16 + Ephesians 6: 10-25 + Luke 3, 1-6, 1-15
“Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.” Teildard Chardin
This simple idea and this profound wisdom guided much of John Vrana’s life as a child of God and as a priest. Those two identities were never opposed nor separate in John’s life. He was always a child of God. The curiosity, the interest, the delight, and the mischief of a child was always there. Never childish but always child like, John found interest and excitement in anything new and the simplest of things and ideas. It was a quality of being that made him ageless and youthful in spite of a failing and frail body.
Our Sacred Scriptures identify 55 prophets in the Old Testament. In the Second or New Testament, there is no counting of prophets, but that certainly does not mean that there are none. According to some views, prophecy is not a gift that is arbitrarily conferred upon some people; but rather, it is the culmination of a person’s spiritual and ethical development. When a person reaches a sufficient level of spiritual and ethical development, the Shechinah, the Divine Spirit comes to rest upon him or her.
When the prophet of the first reading today left this earthly realm, that Shechinah did not depart with him, but remained upon another who had imitated and reached for the prophet’s spiritual and ethical values. Never was Israel without such prophetical figures. From my own perspective, Israel itself became prophetic often speaking and revealing to us the will and nature of God who loved and favored Israel for so long. It would seem that Israel may have preserved this story to claim the prophetic role and to remind itself that seeking spiritual and ethical perfection was the only fitting response to the love and favor God had shown.
As a remnant of prophetic Israel moves into the Second Testament, the role of the prophet and the priest merge together first in Jesus Christ and then in those who follow him to continue his work of service and revelation. In some ways, the passing of John the Baptist is like the passing of the First Testament Prophet we heard of today. No sooner is John gone than the ministry of Jesus begins. The role and the work of the prophet passes on not just to Jesus Christ, but to the new Israel he has prophetically called to spiritual and ethical perfection.
We are a people who acknowledge today the presence of a prophet in our midst; for John Vrana was more than a priest for us. He was a prophet as well in the image of Jesus Christ. In his prayer and in his preaching he urged us all to deeper spiritual and ethical values. He was a man who stood before the Lord somewhat like the gifted man of this gospel and asked the same question: “What must we do?” Those who were his students know that he often insisted that we ask the same question and act upon it. He lived those stirring words of Paul to the Ephesians we just heard.
Asking that question all through his life is what made John a real child of God. It opened his mind and his heart day after day, book after book! From that openness he spoke like a prophet among us crying out for Justice and for Peace; and was never silenced by the hatred and ugliness of those who attacked him personally. In the face of it he simply suffered their insults and rage growing more peaceful and centered on the priest and prophet, Jesus Christ whose spirit overshadowed and inspired him. Those of us who lived with him through those years know well how it hurt, but John knew that a prophet suffers silently and patiently for the sake of the truth. It now looks as though that silent patient suffering prepared him for these last years and months of his life.
He once said to me when I was a seminarian: “The whole of life lies in the verb of seeing.” I was very impressed. In those days everything he said impressed me. Because he was a man of few words it was not hard to remember what he said. I still remember that wisdom because John could see. Perhaps that is why he lived and loved so magnificently; and John could live so that many of us could see.
In the Divinisation of Our Activities, Chardin worte: “Those who spread their sails in the right way to the winds of the earth will always find themselves born by a current towards the open sea.”
John, the priest and prophet has gone from us now having spread his sails in just the right way leaving us with the Spirit of God that put light in his eyes and fire in his heart. He encouraged many of us to do the same: spread our sails to the winds of the earth. He now sails ahead of us toward the open sea, the open arms of God his creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. Eternal Rest Grant unto him, O Lord.