Given that we have just entered 2012: Year of Mayan Doom I thought I’d tackle a note I got from a reader about analogous prophetic tizzies one finds in Christian (and some Catholic) circles.  He writes:

I am forwarding an email today from my relative, who upon returning to the Catholic Church last year developed a bit of a tendency to read a lot of modern-day “apocalyptic”-type “prophecy.”  I can’t tell my relative this, but I think that a lot of it is bunk (at least, I can’t tell him in so many words without risking hurting his feelings).....  If it is in accord with Church teaching—like Fatima—then it is merely reinforcing what the Church teaches and is good.  But I think that there are far too many people who think that they can “read the tea leaves” of “judgment” for themselves, and they come up with fanciful interpretations of current events through a “lens” that is astigmatic, in my opinion.  In any event, let me know what you think—the link below is “hyping” a book to be published next month, “The Harbinger,” by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn.  Here is the Amazon link to the book

I hardly know where to begin when my relative sends me this sort of thing.  Another friend of mine, earlier this year, was all excited about the supposed forthcoming destruction of the earth by the “nemesis” comet that passed Earth a few weeks ago.  This friend is quite a faithful Catholic, but he, too, sometimes runs after this sort of thing.  He and his wife are very much “into” that Irish “mystic,” Christina Gallagher—which I think is also a bunch of “hooey.”  We have repeatedly tried to warn them about putting too much store by Gallagher, whose credibility is at least open to question; but they won’t listen to us about this.  We remain quite good email buddies otherwise. 

When I hear people whom I know and respect (and love) otherwise get into these sorts of “tizzies” about predicting the future, I usually nod politely and ask a few polite questions.  Ordinarily, there is no disabusing these otherwise sensible people of these fantastic notions.  Besides, I tell my wife, what difference does any of it make?  We’re supposed to be living moment to moment for Jesus, anyway; and supposed to be “ready to greet Him when He comes again” as in the old translation of the Eucharistic prayer.  (I always thought that that was rather a hubristic assumption—that we can claim to be “ready to greet Him” again—our attitude would better be suffused with meekness and humility and trepidation as to how we have so often failed Him and must throw ourselves on His mercy—not claiming already to be “ready”!!)

Finally, I have a problem with people saying that we are somehow about to get our “chastisement”—the USA particularly.  Personally, I wonder—if God is chastising us because we abandoned Him, why isn’t he also chastising the many persecutors of Christians all around the world?  Why not chastise the Muslims, for example?  Or, of late, the Hindu extremists who’ve been attacking Christians?  Hmm? Is it because God’s judgment is harsher for those who knew Him but abandoned Him than for those who—through what we charitably call “invincible ignorance”—never knew Him at all?  Is this not something that occurs, mostly, at the Last Judgment at the end of the world? (Of course, sin does carry quite a few temporal penalties inherent within the proximate and remote effects of that sin.  But that branches off into another discussion.)

The world is full of contingent events hinting at our mortality anyway—earthquakes, fires, landslides, hurricanes, floods, disease, etc, etc.  It just makes Christians look foolish to be saying that God has inflicted a particular suffering on a particular people or nation at a particular time in history specifically because we have apostasized.  Excuse me, but people have been crucifying Jesus throughout history anyway—whether we be Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu—whatever.  Why is it that people misinterpret the contingency of the fallen universe as representing some sort of specific judgment against a particular people or nation?  Didn’t Jesus say that that blind man whom he cured with a paste of mud and spittle had been born blind not because of anyone’s sin?  People get all mixed up about this sort of thing—and one of the results is confusion as to Who God is, Who we are, and what, exactly, the universe is and how it manifests itself to fallen humanity.

I think my reader has his head screwed on straight about this stuff.  The itch to have the “inside track” on what is going on behind the curtain of this world is immensely powerful and a certain percentage of people are always trying to make an end run around the public revelation of the gospel in order to figure out the Hidden History of our Time.  It’s an impulse as old as gnosticism—because it is gnosticism.  The gratifying thought that one is not part of the common herd of suckers, but is instead privvy to Secret Knowledge hits us with temptation at multiple levels.  It promises to relieve us of our fears (because we will be ready with the 41 Things You Should Hoard Before the Coming World Tribulation and your loser neighbors will die of starvation).  It also gratifies our pride (because we will be part of the elect and our loser neighbors who, like Noah’s neighbors who didn’t get on the ark, will have to confess We Were Right).  There is also something in it that satisfies our love of a good puzzle or mystery story—the part of us that likes to crack codes and discern patterns invisible to the less observant.

The problem is: it’s all dangerous rubbish.  Jesus could not be clearer.  He told the apostles “What you hear in secret, proclaim from the housetops”.  In other words, there is no inside track, no super-secret knowledge hidden from the hoi polloi.  If you want to hear the revelation of God that was hidden for ages but is now revealed through his apostles and prophets, says St. Paul, go to Church (Ephesians 1:9).  All this hidden revelation stuff is for suckers.  Sure God sends us a private revelation now and then, but if it’s the real deal (as at Fatima) then it always points you right back to the public revelation and the stuff your Mom taught you about being good and paying attention at Sunday School.

I don’t know anything about Christina Gallagher, but I tend to be leery of mystics unless the Church has approved them.  If her bishop says she’s kosher then I’m not going to tell her fans they shouldn’t be her fans.  But even if a bishop makes a provisional approval he can’t see the future.  Some mystics who have been trendy (such as “Ann”) have later been revealed to be rather dodgy.  Generally, my approach to such claims is “Call no man happy till he is dead” (or at least approved by the Church, which happens after they are dead typically).  With stuff like Medjugorje, I think the verdict is pretty clear: when the bishop says there’s nothing supernatural happening, stay far away—particularly when the people involved are highly dodgy, getting very rich, or getting women very pregnant while vowed to the priesthood.

I tend to agree with my reader about the “chastisement” stuff too.  As a former Protestant, one of the things I notice is that the same pathologies tend to turn up in different subcultures, wearing different dress yet weirdly similar.  Protestants have their Left Behind stuff about the tribulation, and Catholics have stuff about the Three Days of Darkness, The Chastisement, and bees wax candles.  I always think to myself “The third of Europe who died in the Black Death and the 100 million people butchered by Commies and Nazis in the past century—not to mention the 53 million dead babies here in the US—will be greatly relieved to know that they did not suffer in The Tribulation or The Chastisement.”  In the same way, while the Tradition warns of the rise of Antichrist and the final climactic battle between Christ and the power of Satan, I also think that, as John tells us, many antichrists have already been busy in the world and that Hitler and Stalin gave it a good college try.  So I think the Lord’s counsel is still best: do not worry about tomorrow since tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Private revelations can be a great aid to faith and I believe they happen all the time.  But I think there is a danger in the sort of subculture that spends its time running after the latest vision, locution, wonder, sign, or “secret” and even encourage people to prioritize private revelations over public revelation.  This leads to real trouble when the “private revelation” is a load of bushwah like Medugorje, Bayside, Conyers or Garabandal.  It tends to create cults of personality around Favorite Visionary or Folk Hero that can be dangerous and even spiritually fatal for both the cult hero and the idolator.  When I was a Protestant, I was pretty sure Catholics believed Mary was another God.  When I became Catholic I discovered that *some* Catholics believe Mary is another Pope.  It is a sign of poor formation when Catholics get their principal understanding of the teaching of the Church, not from the Magisterium and the Tradition, but from whatever the currently hyped visionary is demanding or threatening in the name of Mary.  When the “vision” incites not faith, hope and love, but fear, pride, contempt for the Church, factions, and similar evils, my alarm bells go off.

Finally, I think the healthiest thing in my reader’s note (a note generally radiant with health and common sense) is his relationship with those he disagrees with.  In the end, charity is far more important than who’s right about some prophecy.  As St. Paul says:

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. - 1 Corinthians 13:8-13