Recently, I mentioned some of the kooky apocalyptic theories that swirl around evangelicalism and involve various interpretations of Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation and some of Jesus’ more obscure sayings, all coupled with various predictions about Russia, Israel, the European Union, red heifers, Islam and the rebuilding of the Temple.

It’s all very complicated.

Now, as I mentioned, Catholics don’t have to buy any of this and, in my opinion, do well not to bother with it. What I did not have time to mention is that some Catholics do nonetheless exhibit the same tendency to waste a lot of time on similar speculations.

In Catholic circles, apocalyptic scenarios tend to center around various apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary or alleged prophecies by various saints which, with the right decoder ring, will unfold the mysteries of the “Three Days of Darkness,” the coming Antichrist, the “Great Monarch” and so forth.

As I say, everybody needs a hobby and I have no particular problem with all this speculation — until it starts to interfere with the actual teaching and functioning of the Church.

This can tend to happen, especially in times of scandal such as ours. At such times, when faith in the Church’s charism of infallibility and indefectibility starts to ebb, it does not take long for some people to effectively decide to put far more stock in private revelation, whether approved or unapproved, than in the actual teaching of the magisterium.

This can have various manifestations.

One of them was seen a couple of years ago with the release of the Third Secret of Fatima. Enthusiasts and speculators had worked out some fairly elaborate theories about the Third Secret. Many of the most enthusiastic were shocked and appalled when, like all the rest of authentic private revelation, the gist of the Third Secret was to reaffirm that God was still with the Church in her trials and that we should stick with the office of Peter the Rock.

It did not take long before the dark mutterings of conspiracy, the handwriting analyses of Sister Lucia, the weird speculations about an elaborate Vatican conspiracy to cover up the truth and all the rest were swirling around.

Similarly, there were boatloads of “experts” who made a cottage industry of saying that the Pope had not “really” consecrated Russia to Mary, despite the fact that he himself said he had and Sister Lucia concurred. And the supreme irony was that all this was used as a way to attack John Paul’s authority as Pope — despite the fact that no Pope has ever been under any obligation whatsoever to obey a private revelation.

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

This odd tendency among some Catholics to forgo actually learning the faith in favor of learning a sort of compound of rumor and stray factoids is likewise seen in Catholics who have raised Paul VI’s remark that the “smoke of Satan” has entered the Church to an infallible dogmatic utterance.

It is, for some, the only teaching of the entire pontificate of Paul VI. Nothing else he said or did matters. Indeed, virtually everything else he said and did — including the promulgation of the Paul VI Missal and, above all, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, is regarded as either negligible or a fulfillment of his own “prophecy.”

This curious tendency to prefer prophecy over the magisterium is common among Catholics who regard the magisterial teaching of the Church since the council as the “enemy of the true faith.”

The tendency to run off after dark oracles of their favorite Marian apparition (often not approved by the Church) is a common feature of this sort of enthusiasm. As a convert to the Church from evangelicalism, it led to one of my first big surprises.

I had spent years terrified that Catholics believed Mary is another god. To my surprise, I discovered that the reality is some Catholics think her another pope.

My own response to all this apocalyptic fooferah from both Protestants and Catholics is “Same pathologies, different dress.”

Me: I’m content with “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” But some people just can’t resist the itch to feel they are part of the Inner Ring Who Know the Hidden History of Our Time. And in defense of all this “Lo, here! Lo, there!” hugger mugger, they will say, “But Jesus said to read the signs of the times!”

Yes, he did. That’s what the magisterium he founded is there to help us do.

I suggest using it to learn what “The gates of hell shall not prevail” means. I also suggest learning what “He who listens to you listens to me,” “indefectibility”, and “infallibility” mean.

Also, learning what “private revelation” means would be good, too.


Mark Shea is senior content editor for CatholicExchange.com.