During November, as the liturgical year comes to an end, the Mass readings are replete with eschatological themes, prophecies concerning the Last Things – wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes, persecutions. Homilists have to make an extra effort to come up with cheery interpretations. But the Church’s intention is not to scare the faithful but to emphasize the serious choices involved in being a Christian, and to help us to enter the season of Advent and to look forward to the rescue God offers us at Christmas.
In the Church’s history, these Prophecies (with a capital P) about final things and the end of the world are happily complimented with prophecies (with a lower-case p) giving direction to the faithful here and there – the various prophecies that St. Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians, edifying Christians, preparing them for imminent trials, or assuring them of victories.
And such prophecy reappears now and then, giving extra hope to the faithful, which we need at certain times. And it doesn’t necessarily require heroic sanctity. Pope Benedict XIV writes:
The recipients of prophecy may be angels, devils, men, women, children, heathens, or gentiles; nor is it necessary that a man should be gifted with any particular disposition in order to receive the light of prophecy provided his intellect and senses be adapted for making manifest the things which God reveals to him. Though moral goodness is most profitable to a prophet, yet it is not necessary in order to obtain the gift of prophecy.
He goes on to say that even angels can’t have certain knowledge of events depending on the contingent decisions of humans, unless God reveals the future to them, and thus imparts limited prophetic powers.
Aside from the frequent prophecies from the 4th century to the 19th century of the coming of a “Great Monarch,” and other extremely broad eschatological claims, many of the private prophecies of the saints and servants of God, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “were concerned with individuals, their death, recovery from illness, or vocations. Some foretold things that would affect the fate of nations, as France, England, and Ireland. A great number have reference to popes and to the papacy.”
The United States is much larger than France, England, or Ireland, and so might be home to prophets now and then. Granted that there have been pseudo-prophets galore in the history of our country, are there any authentic prophets available to give us extra direction or encouragement in facing the immediate challenges on the horizon?
In a previous column, I mentioned some saints and others who apparently had constant visible presence of their guardian angels, sometimes even from the time of childhood. Charlie Johnston, a journalist in Denver, Colorado, a talk-show host and political consultant, apparently has had this experience. He eventually entered the Catholic Church, and has become a pundit giving speeches here and in other countries, and running a website on the theme, “the next right step.”
With the permission of his three priest spiritual directors, he occasionally publishes prophecies about the United States and foreign affairs. But his bishop advises hearers to exercise “prudence and caution,” and in 2015 announced that he is not an approved speaker for the Archdiocese of Denver.
Johnston says he receives prophecies through his angel: including a “Great Storm,” which began in 2009 when North Korea ran nuclear tests and allegedly began serving as an “arms merchant” to Middle Eastern regimes; Islamic wars that will finally be defeated; and an upsurge of Chinese aggressiveness that will be opposed by the concerted efforts of the United States and Russia. He adds “I am led to believe the ultimate dictator, while exercising unreviewable executive, legislative, and judicial power in America, will consider himself the ‘Regent of Democracy’.”
On American politics, he made the clearly mistaken prediction that in 2016 there would be no presidential election, or, he hedged, “the results would be irrelevant.” He also made the unlikely prediction that President Obama would not finish his term of office, and “our next stable national leader will not come through the political system.”
His most striking prediction is that, towards the end of the year 2017:
At the darkest moment, Our Lord will send Our Lady to rescue us, visibly and miraculously – and the Storm, while not completely over, will have lost its power and force. . . .Our Lord will send Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, to rescue us. Our deliverance will be miraculous and visibly from her hands.
I and many others would welcome such a final event, which Charlie calls “The Rescue.” But I am skeptical about these predictions for two reasons:
1) I wrote a book and a number of articles about the angelology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and occasionally get letters or emails on that subject. One was from an apparently very normal man, a practicing Catholic, who had experienced the visible presence and communication from angels all his life. He had questions about my book, and got some answers from his angels; but those very friendly angels he described were married, having baby angels, etc. I warned him that this was heretical, and he should get a spiritual director, and he did. I concluded that maybe angel-sighting is a psychological phenomenon, experienced by some very ordinary people, but not necessarily supernatural.
2) I have strongly criticized the Medjugorje phenomenon in the past. Johnston says that when he expressed doubts to his angel about Medjugorje, the angel corrected him, saying “Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje are all manifestations of a single event.” Who am I to argue with angels? But that seems far-fetched.
Charlie Johnston is, however, not the usual excuse-making prophet. He says, “If, next January, Barack Obama peacefully hands over the reins of power to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, I will declare myself unreliable and go away.”
It would be a good thing if not only self-proclaimed prophets but our ordinary political pundits were to make the same promise.