False Prophet

In an earlier post Gil Bailie quoted from Hans Urs Von Balthasar suggesting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s current role might be understood as a lone seed from which a renewed Church could emerge. And on Facebook Gil had posted a picture of Bob Dylan meeting Pope John Paul II at the 1997 Eucharistic Congress in Bologna, Italy where Dylan and other pop stars had performed a few songs for the gathering of an estimated 300,000 young people – these brought to mind how then Cardinal Ratzinger had serious misgivings about the inclusion of pop musicians and especially Bob Dylan at the event as reported in the later Pope Benedict’s memoir, John Paul II, My Beloved Predecessor, Benedict remembers:

The pope appeared tired, exhausted. At that very moment the stars arrived, Bob Dylan and others whose names I do not remember. They had a completely different message from the one which the pope had. There was reason to be skeptical I was, and in some ways I still am over whether it was really right to allow this type of ‘prophet’ to appear.

Recently, Bob Dylan announced the release of a new collection of original songs entitled Rough and Rowdy Ways that includes the song False Prophet, a few lines from which seem to resonate with Gil’s discussion of the Von Balthasar quote:

I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

I’m first among equals – second to none
I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest
Bury ’em naked with their silver and gold
Put ’em six feet under and then pray for their souls

Cardinal Ratzinger had good reason to be skeptical as many young people had indeed looked to Dylan as some kind of secular prophet especially in the ‘60’s. But when Dylan made his public confession of faith in Jesus Christ in the early 80’s much of that idolization seemed to have fallen away. What remains however is a sense that Bob Dylan has a unique gift, a vocation, to be a voice not of his or anyone’s ‘generation’ but a timeless poetic voice calling us out of our unlived meaningless lives and pointing us, as he says in another line from the song, to “the City of God…there on the hill”.

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