The Focus of Prophecy and Pope Francis

by | Oct 14, 2020 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

Recently I came across some material on “soft prophecy.” That concept triggered memories of some conversations with an internationally recognized Vincentian scripture scholar.

Prophets speak to the present

Bruce Vawter, CM, was the author of seven books and editor of two well-respected biblical journals. After ordination, I was sent for advanced studies in theology at the University of Tubingen in Germany. Bruce was on a well-deserved research sabbatical.

One of his books focused on prophecy. Over a glass of wine (well maybe more than one) he told me how he thought most missed the message of prophecy. Too many think of prophecy as focusing on the future. In reality, he saw that the focus of the prophets was on the present.

The prophets’ descriptions of the future were not detailed descriptions of things to come. They were rather warnings of what might happen if people did not heed the word of God. The prophets were calling attention to what was happening in society and saying that God was calling people to change the trajectory they were on.

“Soft prophecy”

Richard Rohr recently reprised some of his thoughts on “soft prophecy”. He describes soft prophecy as “a way of life that is counter to the ways of the world.”

He writes,

The present culture of angry partisan politics that exists on both the Left and the Right is far more effective at making us feel morally superior than it is at changing anyone’s mind. We should first seek to “clean the inside of our own dish,” as Matthew puts it (23:26), before we try to clean other people’s dishes, but that is less visible or heroic and, therefore, less common.

Therefore, soft prophecy requires a way of thinking that is counter to the ways of both the left and the right. Soft prophecy requires a change in a way of thinking from focusing on convincing another of error to exploring how another enriches one’s understanding of God’s dream.

Pope Francis stands in a prophetic tradition

Recently he offered an interview on the well-respected TedTalks. He said…

I would like to invite you to go on a journey together. A journey of transformation and of action. Made not so much of words, but rather of concrete and pressing actions. I am calling it a journey because it requires a shift, a change.

His writings, The Joy of the Gospel, Care for our Common Home, The Call to Holiness in Today’s World, and most recently on Fraternity and Social Friendship, have a common subtext. We are sons and daughters, and therefore truly sisters and brothers who are called to live as such.

In each of these writings, Pope Francis is trying to call us to change our way of thinking from partial and incomplete ways of understanding what our radical dignity is to broadening our understanding of God’s way of thinking.

In each of these writings, he exercises a prophetic function by pointing out the inconsistencies of the path we are on. Pope Francis helps us to see the bigger picture beyond our so often limited and one-sided view of issues. Of course, as with all prophetic challenge, he runs into the entrenched mentalities of “we have always done it that way”, “he doesn’t understand”.

He calls all to reexamine and together shape structures safeguarding God’s Good News that we are one family.


Have I slipped into thinking infallibly?
Am I open to learning more about God’s dream for us?