When leaders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal heard Franciscan Father Michael Scanlan, the president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, deliver a prophecy in 1976 about a time of lawlessness and shuttered churches, no one imagined such a scenario occurring soon — or ever.
“We didn’t dismiss it, but we kind of put it to the side,” Ralph Martin said. Now, 44 years later, the message has struck home, as the seemingly extreme events it cited are happening.
Since discovering the prophecy while doing research for a new book, Martin, the president of Renewal Ministries, has sought to circulate the message and provide commentary on it — not just because it refers to current developments, but because it offers direction about how to respond to such a time as this.
“There’s some real guidance in it and some real hope in it, because, obviously, the Lord knew this was going to happen 44 years ago and he wanted to prepare us.”
Although the prophecy speaks forebodingly of lawlessness and churches with bars across the doors, it does so in the context of asking listeners if they are willing to depend on God alone: “Are you willing to see no law, no order, no protection for you except that which I myself will give you? ... Are you willing to see no country — no country to call your own except those I give you as my body? ... Are you ready to base your life only on me and not on any particular structure?”
The Gift of Prophecy
Those who, like Father Scanlan, who died in 2017, speak such messages are believed to have the gift of prophecy, as described in the New Testament Book of Ephesians, Martin said. This gift and others are given for the building up of the Church, he continued, and, although associated with the Charismatic Renewal movement, they are supposed to be part of the normal life of Catholics.
Martin has given prophecies, as well, including one in 1975: “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.”
However, Martin said he considers Father Scanlan’s message to be more specific in its references to the crime and chaos that many Americans are seeing on their streets in the wake of the death of George Floyd and in the mention of churches here and in other countries being closed because of the coronavirus. Martin said the references in the prophecy to dependence on the institutions of schools and parishes also are significant, as dioceses across the country struggle financially.
But he said there are important lessons to be learned as Catholics and others experience the events cited in Father Scanlan’s prophecy. He said during the coronavirus shutdown, when his parish was having online Masses, his pastor pointed out the four ways Christ is present: in the Eucharist, in the person of the priest, in the word of God and in our souls.
When the first two aren’t available, Martin said, Catholics can develop an understanding of and appreciation for the other two. “Those are important things we could learn during this time, but a lot of us haven’t learned it yet. We’re so dependent on the structures of the church building that it will be hard if those are taken away again.”
The response the message has received since it was posted on YouTube, Facebook and the Renewal Ministries blog and shared on the apostolate’s TV and radio programs indicates a significant resonance. At last check, Martin said the YouTube video had more than 153,000 views, subscriptions to the Renewal Ministries YouTube channel were climbing, and the video was being translated into German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Japanese.
“I do feel like people are troubled, anxious and confused,” Martin said. “People feel rudderless. They don’t know what’s going to happen to their country. ... I think people are really worried about what’s happening in America: the polarization, hatred, irrationality, hostility to Christ and the Church from certain sectors. We are in a horrible spiritual battle manifesting itself in very visible ways.”
Martin said he believes the best response to what is happening is to seek the Lord while he may still be found. “I think we need to get serious about God and start paying attention to him in a more fervent, focused way than many of us have been. We need to get very serious about our faith.”
The message also calls for a deeper commitment to one another, saying, “It is an absolute necessity for those who will base their lives on me and not the structures from a pagan world.” This means, Martin said, that Catholics can’t be anonymous numbers going to church on Sunday, but must connect with brothers and sisters in Christ in their neighborhoods and work environments. “I think we need to find who the believers are in our neighborhoods and start getting to know them and praying together.”
In his commentary, Martin even talks about starting “house churches,” not as a substitute for going to Mass in parishes, but as places to build a hunger for the Mass.
Martin said discovering the prophecy, which had been published in the Charismatic Renewal movement’s New Covenant magazine in March 1976, reminded him of how the prophet Nehemiah in the Old Testament found the Book of Deuteronomy tucked away in the Temple at the right time to restore Israel. Although he does not consider Father Scanlan’s message to be on that level of importance, he said, “Sometimes the Lord allows things to lie hidden for a while and be discovered at the right time.”
‘God Has a Plan’
Martin said depending on God’s protection does not mean hunkering down and letting the darkness descend.
“I think we should fight against the darkness. Be a light; be salt; be a blessing; be mercy to people. Participate in our political system by voting for things that represent the values of the Kingdom. Work to keep schools and parishes going. We’re not supposed to give up, but the Lord is saying something bigger is happening. We need to take note of it. We need to make sure that if the schools close, the parish closes, it’s not the end of the world because God is in control and has a plan and a purpose for us. If buildings close, other things are going to open up.”
In spite of the sober tone of the message, Martin said he believes that these times will lead to tremendous love and hope. The last sentence of the prophecy states, “When you see it all shut down, when you see everything removed which has been taken for granted and when you are prepared to live without these things, then you will know what I am making ready.”
Martin said this indicates that what is happening is not caused by out-of-control forces. “God is deciding to permit these things to happen. He’s not worried. He has a plan for good.”
Martin said he would urge people to heed the message by deepening their relationship with the Lord, putting their priorities in the right place and developing relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of the things in the prophecy are happening now and others may not happen tomorrow. “But if there isn’t a sufficient turning to God, he’s not going to leave us in our lukewarmness, infidelity and sin. He will find other avenues.”
God often uses painful and difficult circumstances to get our attention, Martin said, recalling a quotation from C.S. Lewis: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Register correspondent Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.