Recently our son phoned me and we chatted about his family getting settled into their new life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

When they lived in the Twin Cities, we often had these little visits as he commuted home, inching along or rushing through traffic. Such moments refreshed him with some mother-love as he returned home to their premature twins and a 2-year-old, a life crazy-full of fragility.

But with this new conversation, he shared how he and his wife have carved out a special time with each of their children to set goals with them. That 2-year-old is now 14 and has two goals, one of which is to do his best in school or sports without being upset if that best isn’t first place.

That inspirational level of love within their parenting spoke to me of prophetic wisdom. It helps point the way to goodness and excellence. These parents removed the world’s intense achievement and winning modes to shine light and pay attention to their son’s real growth and development goal; to do his best before God and then trust.

Prophets still do live among us and are much needed. Those who witness Gospel values letting love abound more and more become a prophetic presence. They often speak uncomfortable truths. They jolt us awakening something within us to humbly observe what we’re doing and where we’re going.

A parent’s love requires guiding his or her children through the shadows of their own maturing, recognizing strengths but also acknowledging very real stumbling blocks.

Mentors, too, serve something of a prophetic role in offering that same push toward goodness in their relationships with recovering addicts. Confessors and spiritual directors provide that wisdom-push to those seeking spiritual growth. Everything begins with honesty and self-knowledge.

What good needs to be done? What word should be spoken? Who has the courage to step up? The prophet voices a difficult truth that often is needed at home, in church or the workplace. This vision of hopefulness leads others beyond the now, toward greater goodness.

How desperately we need that today.

We heard in last Sunday’s Scripture about Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus; he hoped to get the best and first look at this man everyone talked about. Unexpectedly, Jesus surprised him: “Come down quickly. I will dine with you today.”

So unhinged by Jesus’ call, Zacchaeus, in the midst of his very narcissistic life, turned toward that face-to-face grace and transformation began. The power of God’s love. Unmerited, undeserved love does that to us.

Like Paul, Zacchaeus became a living prophet to the people of his day, making more than full restitution through his deep conversion.

Prophets “empty themselves” that others might be filled. Their word of hope shines light over darkness and hope over fear. They plant seeds inviting love to grow and grace to change us.

Zeckser is a member of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Dubuque. She volunteers in prison ministry in the archdiocese.

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