In September 2017 our class celebrated 50 years since we first came to Dalgan Park, Ireland, to follow what we all believed at the time was a call to missionary priesthood in the Society of St. Columban. The reunion was a joyful and uplifting experience. I also left pondering whether I had met a prophet in the form of my classmate Enri.
Enri looks like my mental image of John the Baptist–a full beard, intense eyes and a frame that suggests he survives on the modern equivalent of locusts and wild honey which, in a way, he does as he has a number of interesting theories about healthy eating. However, it was Jeremiah from the Hebrew Scriptures that was most strongly evoked by meeting Enri again. Jeremiah was given a most difficult mission by God which was to tell the people something they did not want to hear. Unless they changed their ways and returned to living by the covenant that God had made with them they would lose everything that was most precious to them.
Enri’s message is also one that people do not want to hear. We have enjoyed the many benefits of living in an age of technological advancements, medical breakthroughs and developments that make life easier. We don’t want to hear about the downsides of these things especially those that may be damaging our health and well-being - like the chemicals in many everyday products or the possible negative effects of the energy produced by new technologies. Enri is also trying to break through denial and numbness around some of the wounding effects of our modern lifestyles and energize people about alternatives. Enri, I imagine, is regarded by many as a crackpot, an eccentric or a nutcase - any name that will suggest we can avoid taking him seriously.
Jeremiah listened to God who spoke to him persistently, and he persistently and faithfully passed on that message to his people.
Enri shares another significant trait with Jeremiah namely persistence. Jeremiah listened to God who spoke to him persistently, and he persistently and faithfully passed on that message to his people. We are told he kept doing this for at least 23 years despite the ridicule and the grief he got from people. Enri has been persisting with this message for more than 40 years later despite the ridicule and grief he gets even from his friends.
There is at least one significant difference between Jeremiah and Enri. It is very clear that Jeremiah operated out of a consciousness that the message he proclaimed came from God. “Thus says the Lord” is a refrain that runs all though the book of Jeremiah. God’s word was like a fire in his heart that was impossible to resist. Enri makes no claim that his message is one coming from God. It arises out of his experience, his research and involvement in various issues, but it too is like a fire in him that means he is committed to speaking his “inconvenient” truth however people respond to him.
Maybe I didn’t meet a prophet, but I was certainly reminded of a number of them. Meeting up again with Enri left me with a lot to ponder about my lifestyle and the things that effect health and well-being not only for myself and other people but for the earth itself. Is that not what prophets are called to do?
Columban Fr. Patrick O’Shea lives in Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand.