In memory of the prophetic witness
of the Christian martyrs of 2015
THERE is a strange cloud over the Church, especially in the Western world—one that is sapping the life and fruitfulness of the Body of Christ. And it is this: the inability to hear, recognize, or discern the prophetic voice of the Holy Spirit. As such, many are crucifying and sealing the “word of God” in the tomb all over again.
I feel strongly that the following needs to be said, for I believe the Lord is going to speak more prophetically to the Church in the days ahead. But will we be listening?
Much of the Church has lost sight of what true prophecy or the “prophetic” is. People today tend to label “prophets” as those who either exercise a kind of divinized fortune telling, or those who shout down the authorities—a kind of “John-the-Baptist-brood-of-vipers” dialect. cf. Matt 3:7
But neither of these grasps the heart of what true prophecy is: to convey the living “word of God” in the present moment. And this “word” is no small thing. I mean, can anything God say be small?
Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
There you have a powerful explanation as to why the Church today needs to be attentive to the word of God in prophecy: because it penetrates between soul and and spirit into the heart. You see, it is one thing to state the law, to repeat the teachings of the Faith. It is another to speak them under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The former is as though “dead”; the latter is living because it is emerging from the prophetic voice of the Lord. Thus, the exercise of prophecy is essential to the life the Church, and therefore, also an object of attack.
PROPHECY HAS NOT ENDED
Before we can go on, one has to address the contemporary notion that prophecy in the Church ended with John the Baptist, and that since him, there are no more prophets. An unqualified read of the Catechism would lead one to believe so:
John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last… In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah. —Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n. 523, 719
There is a context here that is key to understanding what the Magisterium is teaching. Otherwise, the Catechism, as I will show, would be in complete contradiction to Sacred Scripture. The context is the Old Testament period of salvation history. The key words in the above text are that “John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah.” That is, from Elijah to John, God was disclosing Revelation. After the Incarnation of the Word, God’s Revelation of himself to mankind was completed:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a Son… (Heb 1:1-2)
The Son is his Father’s definitive Word; so there will be no further Revelation after him. —CCC, n. 73
However, this does not mean that God has ceased to reveal greater depths of understanding of His Public Revelation, His universal plan and divine attributes. I mean, do we really believe that we know everything there is to know about God now? No one would say such a thing. Hence, God continues to speak to His children to unveil greater depths of His mystery and lead us into them. It was Our Lord himself who said:
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16)
There are a number of ways that Christ speaks to His flock, and among them prophecy or what is sometimes called “private” revelation. However,
It is not [“private” revelations] role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history… Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment. —CCC, n. 67
Prophecy has not ended, and nor has the charism of the “prophet.” But the nature of prophecy has changed, and therefore, the nature of the prophet. Thus a new cycle of prophets has begun, as stated clearly by St. Paul:
And [Christ’s] gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ… (Eph 4:11-13)
THE NEW PURPOSE
In his discourse on the revelations of Fatima, Pope Benedict said:
…prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future. —Cardinal Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), Message of Fatima, Theological Commentary, www.vatican.va
In this regard, even those prophecies that deal with future events find their context again in the present; that is, they generally teach us how to respond in the “now” so as to prepare for the future. For we cannot ignore the fact that prophecy throughout the Old and New Testaments often involves aspects of the future. To disregard this is, in fact, perilous.
Take for example the prophetic message of Fatima. Specific instructions were given by the Mother of God that were not carried out by the Church.
Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled, Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. —Fatima seer, Sr. Lucia, Message of Fatima, www.vatican.va
How can ignoring the instructions of the Lord because they are so-called “private revelation” possibly bear fruit? It cannot. The spread of these “errors” (Communism, Marxism, atheism, materialism, rationalism, etc.) is a direct result of our inability to recognize or respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit, personally and collectively.
And here we come to a deeper examination of the role of prophecy in New Testament times: to help bring the Church “to mature manhood.”
Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy…. he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation… He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. (1 Cor 14:1-5)
St. Paul is pointing toward a gift intended to edify, build up, encourage and console the Church. So how many of our Catholic parishes today make room for this gift? Almost none. And yet, Paul is explicit how and where this is to take place:
…prophecy is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. So if the whole church meets in one place and… everyone is prophesying, and an unbeliever or uninstructed person should come in, he will be convinced by everyone and judged by everyone, and the secrets of his heart will be disclosed, and so he will fall down and worship God, declaring, “God is really in your midst.” (1 Cor 14:23-25)
Note that “the secrets of his heart will be disclosed.” Why? Because the living word, the “two-edged sword” is being communicated prophetically. And this all the more convincing when it comes from a soul who is authentically living what he is preaching:
Witness to Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev 19:10)
Furthermore, these prophecies were uttered where “the whole church” met, presumably the Mass. Indeed, in the early Church, prophecy among the assembly of believers was normative. St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) testified that:
…whoever was baptized at once spoke in tongues, and not only in tongues, but many prophesied; some performed many other wonderful works… —On 1 Corinthians 29; Patrologia Graeca, 61:239; cited in Fanning the Flame,Kilian McDonnell & George T. Montague, p. 18
Every church had many who prophesied. —On 1 Corinthians 32; Ibid.
It was so normal, in fact, that St. Paul gave specific instructions in order to ensure that the gift of prophecy was carefully heeded and utilized:
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others discern. But if a revelation is given to another person sitting there, the first one should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. Indeed, the spirits of prophets are under the prophets’ control, since he is not the God of disorder but of peace. (1 Cor 14:29-33)
St. Paul emphasizes that what he is instructing comes directly from the Lord:
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or a spiritual person, he should recognize that what I am writing to you is a commandment of the Lord. If anyone does not acknowledge this, he is not acknowledged. So, (my) brothers, strive eagerly to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues, but everything must be done properly and in order. (1 Cor 14:37-39)
This is not the place for a lengthy discourse as to why prophecy has lost its prominence in the pragmatic realm of daily life in the Catholic Church. After all, St. Paul places “prophets” only second to “Apostles” in his list of gifts. So where are our prophets?
It’s not that they aren’t among us—it’s that they often aren’t welcomed or understood. In that regard, nothing has changed over thousands of years: we still stone the message-bearers, most especially when they bear a word of warning or strong exhortation. They are accused of “doom and gloom”, as if sin and its consequences no longer exist in our modern world. Pope Benedict, one of the most prophetic men in our times, was once asked when he was a Cardinal why he was such a pessimist, and he replied, “I am a realist.” Realism is a ray of truth. But always, always, emerging from the Sun of Hope. But not a false hope. Not a false picture. The false prophets in the Old Testament were, in fact, the ones who pretended that everything was just fine.
One of the lethal fruits of modernism that has infected many seminaries is a dismantling of the mystical. If the divinity of Christ is questioned, how much more the assertion that one could operate in His mystical gifts! It is this cynical rationalism that has spread everywhere in the Church and led to the current crisis of spiritual blindness, which manifests in the prophetic realm as dysfunctional discernment.
Aside from the void of exegesis in the prophetic gifts, there is often an almost unspoken assumption among some clerics that God only speaks through the Magisterium and perhaps, at most, through those who have at least a theological degree. While the lay faithful are frequently confronted with this attitude on a local level, it is fortunately not the teaching of the Church on the universal level:
The faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ…. [He] fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy… but also by the laity. —CCC, n. 897, 904
And thus, Pope Benedict says:
In every age the Church has received the charism of prophecy, which must be scrutinized but not scorned. —Cardinal Ratzinger (BENEDICT XVI), Message of Fatima, Theological Commentary,www.vatican.va
But again, herein lies the crisis: an unwillingness to even scrutinize prophecy. And the lay are as much at fault at times in this regard, for one often hears: “Unless the Vatican approves it, then I won’t listen to it. And even then, if it’s “private revelation”, I don’t have to listen to it.” We’ve already pointed out above why this attitude can be a sleight of hand to avoid confronting the uncomfortable voice of the Spirit. It’s technically right, yes. But as theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar said:
One can therefore simply ask why God provides [revelations] continuously [in the first place if] they hardly need to be heeded by the Church. —Mistica oggettiva, n. 35; cited in Christian Prophecy by Niels Christian Hvidt, p. 24
On the other hand, we also see that where there is a willingness in the Church to scrutinize prophecy, it often turns into an investigation that exceeds what even the secular courts undertake to establish facts. And by the time a discernment is issued, sometimes decades later, the imminence of the prophetic word is lost. There is wisdom, of course, in patiently testing a prophetic word, but even this can become an instrument that buries the voice of the Lord.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. (1 Thess 5:19-21)
Politics, brothers and sisters. This too exists in our Church and manifests itself in many sad and unfortunate ways, yes, even diabolical ways. Because prophecy—the living word of God—is often very much despised, the Spirit is frequently quenched, and shockingly, even the good is very often rejected. By some episcopal standards, St. Paul would have been barred from speaking in some of our modern dioceses because of his claim to have received “private revelation.” Indeed, many of his letters would be “banned” because they were revelations that came to him by way of visions in ecstasy. The Rosary would likewise be set aside by some prelates because it came through “private revelation” to St. Dominique. And one would have to wonder if the marvelous sayings and wisdom of the Desert Fathers that were revealed to them in the solitude of prayer would be set aside because they were “private revelations”?
Medjugorje is perhaps one of the most glaring examples of our inability to follow St. Paul’s simple instruction. As I wrote in On Medjugorje, the fruits of this “unofficial” Marian shrine are staggering and perhaps unequalled since the Acts of the Apostles in terms of sheer conversions, vocations, and new apostolates. For over 30 years, a message continues to resonate from this place as coming allegedly
from Heaven. Its contents are summarized as such: a call to prayer, conversion, fasting, the Sacraments, and meditation on the Word of God. As I wrote in The Triumph – Part III, this is straight from the teachings of the Church. Whenever the alleged “seers” of Medjugorje speak publicly, this is their consistent message. So what we are speaking of here is nothing new, just a particular emphasis on authentic Catholic spirituality.
What would St. Paul say? Applying his Scripture on discernment, maybe he would say, “Alright, I don’t know for certain that this is directly from Our Lady as the seers claim, but I have tested what they say against the Public Revelation of the Church, and it stands. Furthermore, following our Lord’s command to “watch and pray” and pay heed to the signs of the times, this call to conversion rings true. Therefore, I can retain what is good, namely, that urgent call to the essentials of the Faith.” Indeed, as we examine the collapse of the Catholic world in the West, it seems obvious that such revelations as these—whether straight from a heavenly messenger or mere human beings—can…
…help us to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them rightly in faith. —Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), Message of Fatima, “Theological Commentary”, www.vatican.va
He to whom that private revelation is proposed and announced, ought to believe and obey the command or message of God, if it be proposed to him on sufficient evidence… For God speaks to him, at least by means of another, and therefore requires him to believe; hence it is, that he is bound to believe God, Who requires him to do so. —POPE BENEDICT XIV, Heroic Virtue, Vol III, p. 394
FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES
Of course, I am not suggesting that prophecy is only the realm of mystics and visionaries. As stated above, the Church teaches that all the baptized share in the “prophetic office” of Christ. I receive letters from readers who operate in this office, sometimes without even realizing it. They too are speaking God’s “now word” in the moment. We need to return to this attentive listening to one another, to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to His Church, not only through magisterial statements, but through the anawim, the lowly, the “poustiniks”—those who emerge from the solitude of prayer with a “word” for the Church. For our part, we need to test their words, first of all, by assuring that they are consonant with our Catholic Faith. And if so, do they edify, build up, encourage, or console? And if so, then receive them for the gift they are.
Nor should we expect the bishop to step in and discern every single “word” that comes forth in a group setting or otherwise. He wouldn’t have time for anything else! Certainly, there are times when revelations are more public in nature, and it is appropriate for the local ordinary to become directly involved (especially when phenomena are claimed).
Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good. —Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 12
But when the bishop is not involved, or when the process is long and drawn out, St. Paul’s instructions are a simple guide to discernment within the Body. Besides, there is no new Revelation coming forth, and what we have been handed in the deposit of faith is indeed adequate enough for salvation. The rest is grace and gift.
LEARNING TO HEAR HIS VOICE
I sense the Lord calling His Church into the solitude of the desert where He is going to speak to His Bride more directly. But if we are so paranoid, so cynical, so afraid to listen to the prophetic voices of our brothers and sisters, we risk missing out on those graces meant to edify, build up, encourage and console the Church at this hour.
God has given us prophets for these times. These prophetic voices are like headlights on a car. The car is Public Revelation and the headlights those revelations emerging from the Heart of God. We are in a period of darkness, and it is the spirit of prophecy that is showing us the way forward, as it often has in the past.
But are we, clergy and laymen alike, listening? It was the religious authorities who sought to silence Jesus, to silence the “Word made flesh.” May the Spirit of God come to our assistance and help us to hear the voice of the Lord once again in all His children…
Those who have fallen into this worldliness look on from above and afar, they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters… —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 97
…we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience. —POPE FRANCIS, Lenten Message, January 27th, 2015; vatican.va
…by the mouths of babes and infants, You have established a bulwark against your foes, to silence enemy and avenger. (Psalm 8:3)
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|↑1||cf. Matt 3:7|