Under the sobering headline, “A Time of Judgment and Purification,” Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Renewal Ministries published a decades-old message in its July newsletter that seemed eerily timely.
“My Church is desperately in need of this judgment,” the message said in part. “They have continued in an adulterous relationship with the spirit of the world. They are not only infected with sin, but they teach sin, embrace sin, dismiss sin. Their leadership has been unable to handle this.”
First spoken by the late Franciscan Father Michael Scanlan and published in the former New Covenant magazine in 1980, those words are considered a prophecy by Renewal Ministries, which grew out of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. The prophecy of Father Scanlan, who served as president of Franciscan University of Steubenville from 1974 to 2000, is one of several received years ago by leaders of the movement that have continued to resonate as events have unfolded in the Church and the world.
But such messages are not isolated or even rare. They are among many that have been spoken or written in the modern age, leading some to believe the world is in or entering the “end times” referred to in Scripture.
Indeed, several popes, including more recently St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have spoken compellingly along these lines, as have the visionaries of Fatima and other Marian apparition sites and scores of ordinary people who receive visions or locutions and discern them through their spiritual directors, sometimes sharing them online.
In fact, Catholics who follow such messages were less surprised than many by the recent revelations about the clergy sexual-abuse scandal and the Church’s failure to deal with it.
Mark Mallett, a Canadian author, blogger and evangelist who sees his role as one of watching, praying and listening to what God is saying to the Church, said he believes the Church was warned of the sexual-abuse crisis in general terms partly through the messages at Fatima that spoke of how Russia would spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church if Mary’s requests were not heeded.
“The ‘errors’ of Russia, which find their genesis in the Enlightenment period,” Mallett said in an email interview, “include all the ‘isms’ that infected the nations since 1917: communism, socialism, radical feminism, modernism, individualism, moral relativism. In this sense, the sexual perversion being exposed today is symptomatic of a culture that has long lost its moral boundaries, thereby putting ‘the very future of the world … at stake,’ as Pope Benedict warned the Curia in 2010.”
Still, Mallett said, when God speaks through prophecy, it is not to predict the future, but, as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 2000 in his theological commentary on the Fatima message, “to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future.”
Role of Prophecy
Father Joseph Esper, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and author of several books dealing with prophetic messages, said in the Old Testament, God raised up prophets as a kind of back channel of communication to the people because those who made up the religious establishment of the day were not doing what they were called to do.
“When religious leaders are fulfilling their duties, prophets, especially in the form of private revelation, are not really needed,” he said. “The fact that there has been much alleged private revelation over the last few centuries indicates that, sometimes, leaders of the Church have fallen short.”
Father Esper said in such cases, God uses prophecy to warn, prepare and encourage people, but never to introduce new doctrine and only to elaborate on Church teaching or give practical information or advice on how to put that teaching into practice.
Messages can be for an entire nation, a group of people, the Church itself or individuals, he said. Often, when warning of dire things to come, prophecy is conditional, meaning that if people take the message seriously and change their ways, chastisements can be mitigated or prevented.
Peter Herbeck, vice president and director of missions for Renewal Ministries, said prophetic messages can show the broad lines of what may be coming, given Scripture says that the Lord “reveals his secret counsel to his servants the prophets.”
However, he said, every prophecy needs to be tested, often over time. St. Paul, he explained, exhorts Christians not to despise prophecy, but also to test everything and to seek what is good. The first indicator of a prophecy’s credence can be the impression it leaves on those who first hear it, Herbeck said. In such instances, there is a sense of “pay attention to this.”
“There is a certain weight to it, a certain clarity and maturity to it,” he said.
Preparing for Trials
For example, many of those who heard a prophecy given in 1975 in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by Ralph Martin, an early leader of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal who is now president of Renewal Ministries, have said they felt a tremendous sense of conviction.
The message said, in part, “Because I love you, I want to show you what I am doing in the world today. I want to prepare you for what is to come. Days of darkness are coming on the world, days of tribulation. … Buildings that are now standing will not be standing. Supports that are there for my people now will not be there. … I will strip you of everything that you are depending on now, so you depend just on me.”
Herbeck said the message parallels what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said as a young priest about how the Church would lose its prestige, voice in politics and influence, and shrink through testing, trial and purification.
Likewise, St. John Paul II’s response to German Catholics in 1980, when he was asked what was going to happen to the Church, was strikingly similar: “We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ. … With your and my prayer, it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed.”
Mallett said he believes Mary and the popes have been key prophetic voices for this time.
Mary’s encouragement and admonitions are echoed in papal teachings, he said, adding, “For well over a century, the popes have been warning of an attack upon the foundations of the Church by secret sects (Freemasons), communism and so forth. Far from conspiracy theories, these are warnings that appeared in encyclicals, apostolic letters and other authoritative statements.”
Added Herbeck, “St. John Paul II used to say that part of the call of the vicar of Christ is to be able to read the signs of the times and interpret what the Spirit is saying. I thought he did that magnificently and was uniquely gifted at it.”
Unfortunately, Mallett said, many have not listened. Because of rationalism, he said, “We have become a Church that remains mostly in the head, often disconnected from the heart. Thus, we have lost the essential ingredient to inheriting the Kingdom: a child-like disposition. Without that, even some of the Church’s best apologists have tended to sneer at the mystical, at the apparitions of Our Lady and the phenomena that often accompany them. We have lost our ability to discern prophetic words, suggesting that even they can be ignored, even when they have attained ‘approval.’”
Those listening, Mallett said, are often obscure, little and unknown souls. Herbeck agreed. Frequently, he said, ordinary people living devout lives with hearts pursuing the Lord have a good sense of what God is doing. “I’m never surprised how tuned in very prayerful people are to what the heart of the Lord is doing.”
Nonetheless, Mallett said, “It is not hard to see the ‘signs of the times’ today. And so, I believe that what many of us have known and accepted for decades is beginning to be acknowledged by those who have resisted these prophetic truths.”
The Present Time
Mallett said the Catechism of the Catholic Church (672) speaks about the present time as one of “Spirit and of witness,” but also one marked by distress and a trial of evil that does not spare the Church and ushers in the last days.
Citing the same Catechism passage, Herbeck said the time of “Spirit and of witness” is to be a time of waiting and watching. But he said ignorance of Scripture and the Catechism has left many vulnerable. “Are we waiting and watching? I think a lot of people don’t know what they don’t know. … They’d rather be doing other stuff and don’t realize how important deep devotion to Christ is … and what’s going to happen when we die.”
As for whether current events constitute the “end times” heralding the return of Christ, Herbeck said many in the Protestant world believe it to be so. However, he added, citing such signs as the collapse of Christendom, the rise of apostasy and the re-establishment of Israel, “If this is not the end times, it certainly is a very powerful dress rehearsal.”
Father Esper recalled that, as long ago as 1976, when St. John Paul II was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, he said, “We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the Gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the Antichrist. … it must be a trial which the Church must take up and face courageously …”
Similarly, he said, Sister Lucia, one of the Fatima visionaries, spoke in 1957 of how the devil was looking for a decisive confrontation and that his primary targets would be the family and the priesthood. “It doesn’t take much investigation or evaluation of current times to see that those assaults have been underway in a powerful manner.”
“At the end of the day,” Herbeck said, “the end times may be here, but every one of us is to live our days with our lamps burning. If we’re actually living that way, we’ll be ready for the end times, whenever they come.”
Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.
Prophetic Differences: Catholic and Protestant Views
Protestants can seem to dominate the public conversation on prophecy, as was evidenced by the popularity of books like the best-selling Left Behind series, which began in 1995 and ended in 2006.
But their view of prophecy is markedly different from that of Catholics. For one, it tends to focus on interpreting the Bible’s prophecies, although some Protestants do receive visions and messages about the times, said Father Joseph Esper, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and author of several books on prophecy. Some Protestants as part of their view of prophecy, Father Esper said, also embrace what is known as “the rapture,” an idea developed by John Nelson Darby in the 19th century based on certain Scripture passages that speak of two people being together and one being taken.
Catholic evangelist and author Mark Mallett, who writes a blog journal to help prepare the Church for the current times, said he thinks the most striking difference lies in the Protestant disavowal of the Marian dimension of prophecy.
“Ironically,” he said, “Our Lady appears symbolically in the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, as a key figure in salvation history. Catholics are actually far more biblical in this regard by acknowledging the Blessed Mother’s role.” When Mary appeared in Guadalupe, Mallett said, St. Juan Diego described her appearance as though “clothed with the sun,” a direct reference to the biblical book of Revelation, and her other apparitions also indicate this sign, which has been acknowledged by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to be a symbol of Mary, the Church and the People of God,
Without the Marian dimension, Mallett said, Protestants do not hold the key to understanding the end times. By focusing on the Bible alone, they also lack the benefit of the Church’s body of mystical theology and the voices of prominent saints and mystics.
Some Protestants also view the Catholic Church as the “whore of Babylon” or an Antichrist system, Mallett said, but, fortunately, such views are less prevalent today than they were several decades ago.
Amid such differences, he added, “There is a general congruence between Catholic and Protestant prophecy that acknowledges the apostasy in our midst, a coming persecution of the universal Church and the rise of a ‘beast’ that dominates through a new world order and economic system.”
Peter Herbeck, vice president and director of missions for Renewal Ministries in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said Protestant beliefs about prophecy are wide-ranging, with some saying prophecy stopped with the Bible and others living by what is called “the now word” from God. Catholics, by contrast, look to Scripture, the Catechism and other Church teaching. They also have the private revelation, although the Church does not require its acceptance.
In addition, Mallett said, Catholic prophecy speaks of a “triumph of the Church” and “renovation of the world.” This is not the end of the world, he said, but a “period of peace” when the Church will rest from her labors.
“In that regard, there is a common thread that has run through Catholic prophecy since St. John authored the Apocalypse,” he said. “In his general audience on Sept. 10, 2003, St. John Paul II said, ‘After purification through trial and suffering, the dawn of a new era is about to break.’ Many popes have stated much the same thing, indicating that the Church will blossom again after a time of suffering. This echoes, of course, the apparitions of the Blessed Mother, who speaks of the ‘triumph of her Immaculate Heart.’ Since she is the Mother of the Church, this, too, will be our triumph.” — Judy Roberts