The times we are living in

"People will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes…" (2 Tim 4:3)

The world today is very different from the way it was in the 1960's. Many more people now feel disenfranchised, subject to anonymous authority, unclear about the locus of decisions in society, appalled at the retreat of public institutions such as the family, the church or the school from an position of influence or as sources of hope. There are also many who feel hopeless, disillusioned, and stifled by oppressive forces that they cannot identify, but which prevent them from developing careers, building secure futures, or expressing their values effectively through a democratic process.

Contemporary culture supports those who declare their independence of God and are offended by the notion that God might want their obedience, their service, their worship, or their conversion. Such "liberated" individuals either deny God's existence, which allows them to make up their own creed for living, or they remodel him to fit their own need for self-respect, freedom or self-indulgence. In practice they acknowledge a religion that assumes that the individual is a god, and that there is no other divinity than the self.

Why do so many thinking people today, including the ablest of students of human history, refuse to see that there is any meaning, direction or ultimate purpose to human existence, or else want to represent it as reflecting narrow or short-term interest? Contemporary society appears to be shrouded in a 'global fog'.

Innumerable commentators set out to determine what is happening in political, economic, or social matters, without regard to the signs of where humanity stands on its spiritual journey? There are, however, a growing number of people that have come to recognize that the Western world especially is morally and spiritually moribund and that only a major religious revival can restore meaning to the life of a whole civilization.

Anyone who is sincerely trying to understand human experience would need to recognize the moral and spiritual disintegration affecting contemporary culture. This moral and spiritual collapse, in relation to gospel values, is what needs to be reversed through a worldwide spiritual renewal being called for by contemporary prophets.

Above the storm of cultural innovation and dissonance, the Church is called to carry out the task of speaking for God, as a prophetic voice calling forth a civilization of Christian love. But, out of fear of being seen as over-reacting or intolerant, very many believers do not dare to proclaim their faith or even to protest at its marginalisation.

The reaction to Prophets and Prophecy

in the Church and in the World Today

We now live in a time of immense confusion. Prophets of doom are plentiful nowadays. The perilous state of the world constantly features in the ecology literature, in New Age prophesies, or in the warnings from many claimed visions being reported around the world, as well as in much more conventional Church sources. There have been many secular writers who have referred to a millenialist attitude, whereby overheated prophetic utterances associated with the year 2000 were leading people astray. Such writers have tended to associate individuals of often quite apparent hysterical tendencies with those living within the community of the Christian Church and loyal to its Scriptures.

There are so many different kinds of prophets: secular ones who tell us how to make the most of life in the here-and-now, religious ones who claim secret knowledge to so called truths, and those who merely repeat the revelation once and for all by God, which is intended for everyone, which is simple, patently sincere, and which promises more than all the rest added together, namely eternal life with God. This is the message that has to be heard, and which will be heard by those who are ready, even if they have no preconception as to what it is they might be about to hear and even if they are not seeking in the direction that could lead them naturally to this message. God does not depend upon human channels, but he may sometimes use them.

Prophecy is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Such gifts have always been recognized by the Church, and are clearly prized by St Paul:

  • You must want love more than anything else, but still hope for the spiritual gifts as well, especially prophecy… the man who prophesies does so for the benefit of the community.

    (1 Co 14:1-5)

  • Authentic contemporary prophecy is largely an underlining of scriptural prophecy, or to put in another way, scriptural prophecies are illuminated by those in our own day. The spiritual insights and divine messages that have come to the Church through the saints and other holy people over the centuries have often been concealed for years often becoming wider known after the death of the messenger.

    Prophecy is the voice of Heaven calling for our attention. In spite of this, there is clearly little awareness amongst Christians of the importance of prophecy in the life of the Church, the extent of prophetic content in the Bible or the echoes of such prophecy in everyday Christian life. There are today a large number of Catholics, and many other Christians, who suspect all contemporary prophetic messages, alleging either that they come from the devil or that they are misguided in distracting the individuals concerned from the worship of God.

    Too often the prophets who seek to awaken the Church and the faithful are sidelined, and kept waiting for responses to appeals, or are ignored or criticized by leaders who fail to lead. In Old Testament times they stoned the prophets and told them not to prophesy. Today prophets are turned into figures of fun, even by those who make money from writing books and articles and from making television programmes about them. But even this was prophesied.

    The scepticism of many Church leaders towards prophecy ill-befits believers in a supernatural religion. There is also a lack of sensitivity among those who comment adversely without taking to heart the concerns of the faithful or, which is much more serious, without seeming to acknowledge the mercy of God and the love of the Virgin Mary that has been expended even in those apparitions and messages which have been fully approved by the Church in the past.

    The struggle involving the Church is a spiritual one between the forces of good and evil, and we choose which side we are on with virtually every breath we breathe. If Christians do not believe in the prophesies offered them by Scripture, is it likely that they will believe modern prophets, or that they will avoid being deceived by false prophets?

    Messages and Revelations

    Although an irrational and suspect millenialism is held to account for widespread apocalyptic warnings in our time, there has in fact been a tradition of modern apocalyptic thinking in Catholic consciousness for at least 150 years.

    A marked feature of the twentieth century is the current of prophecy that refers to miraculous phenomena believed to come directly from God. These include visions and messages of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, interior promptings received by so-called 'locutionaries', weeping statues and icons, and many other happenings too numerous even to mention here, which believers are convinced are authentic, and which are bringing about a powerful spiritual renewal in those sectors in the Catholic Church in which they are given credence.

    In exploring the theme of contemporary prophecy in Catholic consciousness it is impossible to avoid speaking continually of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary has become the most prominent heavenly messenger through her apparitions over the centuries, though these have never been so frequent nor with such a note of urgency as at the present time.

    The first reaction of anyone hearing the messages of the various visionaries is to look for any evidence that they might be confirmed in reality. Failing that, the situation remains uncertain, and so the whole subject becomes a taboo, especially amongst clergy, intellectuals and scholars. However, for many who have studied these phenomena there is enough evidence that the highly consistent messages of the contemporary prophets are the authentic voice of Heaven.

    In Fatima, speaking to three young children in 1917, the Blessed Virgin prophesied the end of the first World War, the Communist revolution, the persecution of the Church, the expansion of the Soviet Empire, and its final collapse. She announced a further great calamity that would affect the Catholic Church, but of details of what she said about this have ever been confirmed publicly. The Blessed Virgin promised, however, that in the end her Immaculate Heart would triumph over evil.

    In Medjugorje, in Bosnia, the Blessed Virgin has been appearing daily since 1981 to several people, now nearly all in their thirties, and she has spoken insistently of the spiritual priorities of human life: the value of prayer, the need for faith in God and conversion of life, and the nature of peace as the acceptance of God's will.

    Although the effect of these apparitions has been spread throughout the world and has brought about thousands of conversions to Christian belief, little general or media attention has been paid to the actual content of the messages given at Medjugorje, or through the many similar recent apparitions, for example in Rwanda, Japan, Venezuela, Ireland and Korea. Nor has it been observed how similar these sets of messages are to one another, in spite of the virtual impossibility of any mutual influence in the natural order of things. What is even more remarkable, when the messages from different parts are examined, is not only this convergence of content, in the appeals for conversion, but also how closely these messages resemble teachings of Pope John Paul II.

    The Prophetic witness of Pope John Paul II

    From the outside, the Catholic Church appears to be a socially and politically ordered institution governed by an absolute ruler. From within, however, the primary reality of the Church is as the mystical body of Christ, the ark of salvation, essentially not a human institution at all, but one ordained by Jesus Christ to carry on the ministry that he began while on earth: the saving of souls for eternal life.

    The image of the ark is a key one, because the Church travels, rescues, carries, and delivers. Every vessel needs a helmsman, and the helmsman of the Church is the Pope, the one charged by Jesus Christ with steering the Church. It is against the Church led by Peter that "the gates of the underworld can never hold out" (Mt 16:18). The authority of the Papacy has undoubtedly been abused at times over the centuries, but its doctrinal and spiritual dimensions have endured, and indeed are more vital today than they have ever been, at a time when civil society has lost any moral consistency or spiritual sense of direction.

    John Paul II is a man of enormous prophetic gifts. His role in world affairs has been that of a prophet, calling the world to take seriously the call of God, the issue of sin, including social and structural sin, and the ethical challenges of what he has termed "the culture of death".

    Despite a virtually worldwide media campaign treating the present Pope as a reactionary despot, it is noteworthy that he has never responded in kind, but instead seeks to guide people to spiritual improvement and to hope. Few people have a more consistently, if measured, apocalyptic tone to their observations than Pope John Paul II. In 1976, before he became Pope, he said at a Eucharistic Conference:

  • "We are now standing at the brink of the final confrontation between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel, the Church and the antichrist, and this is a trial which the whole community of faith must take up".
  • It could easily be shown from his writings that Pope John Paul endorses most of the prophetic appeals contained in the messages given by The Blessed Virgin. As for the warning signs, he is on record as warning about divisions in the Church, and his enthusiasm for the 2000 year Jubilee has certainly something of the prophetic about it. He evidently hopes for significant progress on Christian unity by that date. In Tertio Millennio Adveniente, John Paul talks about a "new springtime of Christian life which will be revealed by the Great Jubilee, if Christians are docile to the action of the Holy Spirit". This same theme recurs in several of his documents sitting oddly with the gloomy statements about a spiritual crisis in the West and a crisis of obedience in the Church which have become such a prominent feature of his pontificate.

    In an extended interview with the Pope, published as the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the Pope himself has said that the year 2000 provides the key to his papacy, which by any standards is one of the most remarkable in the annals of the Church. In the same book Pope John Paul suggests that the attempt on his life in 1981, when he was shot in St. Peter's Square, was linked to an episode which took place more than 60 years earlier, namely the apparition of The Virgin Mary at Fatima in Portugal: "…perhaps this is why it was necessary for the assassination attempt to be made in St. Peter's Square precisely on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima - so that all could become more transparent and comprehensible, so that the voice of God which speaks in history through the 'signs of the times' could be more easily heard and understood."

    The Fatima prophesies forecast a period of unprecedented strife, at the end of which will come a long awaited peace. All around the world Catholics with a special devotion to Mary believe that this peace will arrive soon after the entry into the new millenium; and there are strong grounds for believing that Pope John Paul II is thinking along the same lines. Is this what he means, then, by saying that the year 2000 is the key to his papacy?

    John Paul II has continually suggested that our times should be seen as a 'new Advent' or preparation for the coming of the Lord, and has held his views consistently from at least the beginning of his pontificate. His teaching must, therefore, be considered as independent of the various visionaries and prophets who have offered their messages to the Church during this period. Whatever is believed about the authenticity of mystical apparitions, some explanation must be sought for these similarities. Surely it can only be the Gospel that underlies their teachings, but which heaven wants to be heard in a fresh way.

    Trial and tribulation

    There are many indications that we could be living in the times of false gospels, false prophets and false christs, of which the Scriptures explicitly warn. Scripture points out that there will be a great revolt (2 Th 2:3) and that people will abandon 'divine truth for a lie' (Rm 1:25). The Catechism of the Catholic Church endorses the literal value of these scriptural prophecies:

    Before Christ's Second Coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the 'mystery of iniquity' in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. (CCC, 675)

    Here the Catechism endorses the concept of a period of tribulation before the Second Coming. The Catechism also identifies the enemy with an abstract 'deception', not necessarily an individual as is commonly believed. It seems clear that, despite its historic anti-apocalypticism, Catholic teaching, as set out in the new Catechism allows room for the belief that the Church is now passing through the prophesied tribulation. In light of the prophecies contained in much of contemporary private revelations, and together with some of the recent advances in Biblical study, there have been new insights into the Book of Revelation. Many contemporary private revelations contain a clearly biblical form of millenarianism that is entirely compatible with Catholic teaching as contained in the new Catechism.

    It is a tragic sign of the times that today many nations that were once Christian are no longer so. The biblical prophecy of the great apostasy, the widespread loss of faith, is now being fulfilled in the world. It has never been like this since the first spreading of the Gospel. This is a unique and distinctive historical moment. The Book of Revelation and history converge, and are further confirmed by papal teaching and the contemporary prophets. We cannot put dates on future events. It is not for us to attempt to guess how the Lord will act or what it is in store for us. God's ways are not our ways, and we cannot reason out what he might do. What we can definitely say, however, is that all this calls for a prudent attitude towards the messages we are given, at least by accepting their invitation to faith and to a renewal of our spiritual lives. If we do not respond, then it is our personal responsibility. Similarly, if we do not tell others what we have learnt, then we are contributing to their ignorance and potential downfall. God will warn us, and he will give us signs and miracles, but this will not be enough to bring everyone to conversion. God therefore wants all believers to be evangelists, to make known to everyone the good news and the warnings of the Gospel.

     

    What are we to do?

    However satisfied some people may be at the present time with their own situations, power, wealth and luxuries, there are few who believe that the world is in a good state, that goodness is honoured even in their own consciences. There is a growing sense that we are getting away with something, that we should be very different. Yet we seem to find no energy, values or principles for spiritual renewal. Is this situation one that can endure or are we at a point of such crisis that a breakdown of society is becoming imaginable?

    God is calling the world to a change of mind and heart. He is revealing his deep sadness at the widespread atheism, the scorn of his commandments, and the refusal to submit to his benign authority and to his perfect plan for his creation. He could simply leave us to our own devices, and in the future of time show us through his final judgement where we have gone wrong. That would be too late for conversion, and would mean the loss of many souls to hell. He could reverse his decision to leave us free in conscience, and simply correct us, or frighten us into submission. But in fact this would be against his nature, for he decided already to leave us free, and God cannot change his mind. The only other possibility is that he could warn us in such a way as to prompt us to change without forcing us. Such warnings would be clear and unambiguous. But, they would only be compelling for us in so far as we actually hear them, are open to them, and are ready to obey our own consciences. This is what is now happening. Humanity is on trial. A time of spiritual decision is upon us. If we do not respond perhaps very soon all initiative will be taken out of the hands of those who think they are in control of the Worlds affairs. God's mercy and justice are in a dynamic relationship with one another. God wants to show us his mercy if only we would let him. However, there can come a point when we have so consistently refused his mercy by our lack of repentance, that he is obliged to withhold it, and we must then suffer his justice.

    If we receive Heaven's messages humbly we cannot fail to be moved by them, since they tell us what our inner consciences already know, namely, that we have gone astray, that we have spoiled the world, dissipated our lives in selfish and material pleasure, denied sin and taken a short-term view of our existence. All God wants of us is that we renounce evil, and open our hearts to his forgiveness and love. In doing this we will come to view reality objectively and to discover our true selves. In short, all God wants of us is what he has wanted from humanity since the very beginning: to be happy, innocent and fulfilled - to feel the joy of experiencing his love, forever.

    (This entire article was extracted from various sections of the book "Heaven Wants to be Heard" by Dudley Plunkett)


     

    End-Times Prophecies: What Is The Spirit Saying?

    By Ralph Martin

     

    There seems to be two major prophetic streams flowing in the Catholic Church today that call for our attention. The main spokesperson for the first is Pope John Paul II. Some major themes of this prophetic voice are the imminence of a "new springtime", a "new Pentecost" a "Jubilee" that consists of an encounter with God, a manifestation of Christ, an outpouring of the Spirit.

    The main spokesperson for the second is Mary, the mother of Jesus, speaking through a multitude of approved and "still under discernment" apparitions and signs. Some major themes of this prophetic voice are the urgency of the times, the imminence of a coming warning, followed by a chastisement or judgement possibly involving war and natural disaster, and the importance of turning to God.

    People who are trying to be open to hear what the Spirit might be speaking to the Church today are sometimes puzzled by what appears to be different, even contradictory, themes or emphases in these two major prophetic currents. Of course the Pope also speaks of the dangers of the times, the culture of death, and other negative features but his emphasis is in another direction. And Mary of course speaks often of God’s mercy, goodness, grace and love, but in a context of urgency, and a framework of heaven and hell, of temporal and eternal consequences for neglecting the mercy of God.

     

    Pope John Paul II’s Prophetic Announcement of a "New Springtime"

    Pope John Paul II has said that the interpretive key to his entire pontificate is to understand how everything is oriented to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 and preparing the Church for the next phase of her existence. He even sees the second Vatican Council as the beginning of this important preparation for the Jubilee. In the very first encyclical of his pontificate he had already begun to speak of importance of the coming Great Jubilee. The whole last third of his important encyclical on the Holy Spirit (Dominum et Vivificantem) published in 1986 is devoted to preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 and gives some of the clearest indications of what the Pope is expecting.

    The Pope has made clear, as far back as 1986, that preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 needs to involve a fundamental encounter with God. He speaks of this time of preparation for the Great Jubilee as a "new time of advent, at the end of which, like two thousand years ago, ‘every man will see the salvation of God’ (Lk. 3:6, Cf.Is 40:5)".

    The Pope also makes clear that there is a great need for the Church in this new encounter with the Lord to remember what truly belongs to her yet has perhaps been forgotten or not appreciated adequately.

    The Pope has frequently spoken of "that new springtime of Christian life which will be revealed by the Great Jubilee, if Christians are docile to the action of the Holy Spirit" (On Preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, 18). The Pope has made clear that one of the most striking of these first signs of the new springtime is the growth of the many renewal movements and new communities in the Church. A high point of this sign of springtime, in the Pope’s evaluation, was the gathering of more than fifty of these movements and communities to celebrate the 1998 Vigil of Pentecost in Rome with the Pope. The Vatican estimated that more than 500,000 attended the Pentecost meeting with the Pope, one of the largest crowds ever to gather in Rome for such an event. The Pope’s words to this vast multitude were extremely significant but beyond the scope of this article. Inside the Vatican, in the editorial for its June-July 1998 issue, declared that "what happened in May in Rome was so important we believe future historians of the Church will have to distinguish between ‘before’ and ‘after’ Pentecost 1998." But as significant as this meeting was, the Pope saw it in the wider context as " this extraordinary event which launches us towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000".

     

    Mary’s Urgent Call to Conversion

    It appears that Mary is being sent as a special prophetic/evangelistic messenger to help the Church through this difficult and dangerous time before the ultimate "triumph of her Immaculate Heart". Beginning at Fatima in 1917 and continuing throughout the century Mary has come to warn of great dangers that are affecting the whole world, and the urgent need to take seriously the gospel, believe and repent.

    At Fatima she warned of the spread of communism and the coming of Second World War if there wasn’t sufficient response of the call to conversion. But along with the warnings of suffering and chastisement, in the absence of sufficient repentance, there was also the promise of the ultimate conversion of Russia, the triumph of her Immaculate Heart, at which point "a certain period of grace will be granted to the world". She also showed the children a vision of hell, which underlined the importance of what’s at stake in responding or not responding to the Father’s offer of mercy and pardon in His Son Jesus.

    These themes of warning of imminent danger, the call to conversion, but a promise of ultimate triumph are characteristic of most of the significant apparitions, locutions and special signs connected with the ongoing mission of Mary throughout the rest of the century. A number of these Marian interventions have been judged worthy of belief by the local bishop after a time of investigation. Others are still being investigated with a final judgment not possible until the apparitions or locutions cease and the events that are prophesied either come to pass or not. Some have been investigated and have been found wanting.

    I believe that two scripture passages provide us a key for understanding the different emphases of these important messengers of the Lord. Both, I believe, are playing a very important "John the Baptist role" in helping prepare us for a coming encounter with the Lord, in judgment and great mercy.

    The first passage is Luke 7:29-35: "What comparison can I use for the men of today? What are they like? They are like children squatting in the city squares and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped you a tune but you did not dance, we sang you a dirge but you did not wail’. I mean that John the Baptizer came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He is mad! The Son of Man and he both ate and drank, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ God’s wisdom is vindicated by all who accept it".

    Pope John Paul II is piping a tune of "new springtime" of "new Pentecost" of "Great Jubilee" - and there are many refusing to dance, to undergo the preparation "in the Holy Spirit" to become "docile to the Holy Spirit" which are preconditions for the coming of the new springtime.

    Mary is weeping, is singing a dirge, weeping for her children who are in danger of being swept away by the immense and proximate danger, the closeness of chastisement and judgment, the danger of eternal death, of hell. And there are many who are refusing to have their hearts broken by her tears, there are many who are refusing to respond to the profound simplicity of her repeated calls to conversion.

    Another passage also sheds light on these two prophetic emphases, Luke 19:37-45. "Coming within sight of the city, he wept over it and said: ‘If only you had known the path to peace this day; but you have completely lost it from view! Days will come upon you when your enemies encircle you with a rampart, hem you in and press you hard from every side. They will wipe you out, you and your children within your walls, and leave not a stone within you, because you failed to recognize the time of your visitation’".

    A visitation from God is a two-edged sword, peace, the fullness of God’s blessings, for those who are prepared for it and welcome it, destruction for those who have failed to heed the preparatory messengers and are not prepared to recognize and respond when the fullness of the visitation arrives.

    "The entire populace that had heard Jesus, even the tax collectors, gave praise to God, for they had received from John the baptismal bath he administered. The Pharisees and the lawyers, on the other hand, by failing to receive his baptism defeated God’s plan in their regard" (Lk 7:29-30).

    A baptismal bath of conversion, of repentance, of docility to the Holy Spirit, of intense sacramental life, is being administered by the Pope and Mary, to prepare us for an encounter with God that is coming. If we do not participate in the preparation we may not be ready for the encounter.

    I believe we are now in a time of visitation. God is visiting us in the ministry of John Paul II, in the ministry of Mary, and in many other ways as well. The time of preparation is well advanced. According to the message of John Paul II and Mary we are on the very verge of a significant action of God, an action that will function as a two edged sword, depending on our preparation and willingness to respond to the prophetic message we being given. And is not possible that the fullness of the "new springtime" will not come until we are first purified through chastisement, and awakened to the holiness of God?

    John Paul is calling us to a dance of preparation for "the greatest Jubilee the Church has ever celebrated". He has unveiled a Church-wide six year plan of preparation, a few months of which remain.

    Mary is weeping for those in danger of missing the visitation and has unveiled a personal plan of preparation for what is coming that involves prayer, fasting, repentance and Reconciliation, daily Eucharist, rosary, conversion and faith.

    The messages are complementary. They are two sides of one coin, two edges of one sword. It is urgent that we respond.


     

     

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