Prophets are what you and I are supposed to be. Prophecy is not a relic of the old times but our perpetual mandate as Christians. It is a gift we receive at Baptism, and which we will be able to use optimally so long as we are prayerful and faithful. In our day and age, however, even while we observe Christian prophets on the rise, we must remember that there are prophets and prophets; and it is important to distinguish between true and false ones.

This is not just a contemporary concern; it has existed since times immemorial. In the First Reading (Deut. 18: 15-20), which dwells on the theme of faithfulness, Moses announces the arrival of a mediator between God and Man, a prophet, who will speak to God and convey His message to the people. He is not entitled to interpret the law capriciously. God makes it clear that any such violation is sinful, and the wage of sin is death.

Accordingly, down the ages, Israel was favoured with many prophets but, ever disgruntled, the people consistently rejected them. They broke many covenants, until God, in His love and mercy, decided to send His Son into the world. Jesus became the Prophet par excellence, who exercised His mission perfectly and incomparably. John the Baptist, who was mistaken for that much awaited Prophet, unequivocally pointed to Him as “the Lamb of God”.

As seen from the Gospel passage (Mk 1: 21-28), Jesus in the synagogue, a regular rendezvous of the Jewish community, gave evidence of his messianic role: He taught the people as one who had authority, and not as did the scribes. That is to say, He was faithful to the Father in Heaven and His teachings came alive; on the other hand, the scribes, held as doctors of the Law, interpreted the scriptures as per their whims and fancies.

The Evangelist St Mark describes a typical day in Jesus’ public life in Capernaum, where He prayed in a community and attended to all who came to Him for physical and spiritual relief. Located on the northern banks of Lake Gennesaret (aka Lake Tiberias or Sea of Galilee), Capernaum was Our Lord’s adoptive city. At its synagogue, which He had frequented since childhood, like any faithful Jew, to fulfil the Law, He very significantly launched His ministry.

It is at that same synagogue that the evil one sought to challenge Jesus. Even though he acknowledged Him as the Son of God, the possessed man objected to Jesus’ ministry; he spread the canard that He had come to destroy Israel! The promise from Deuteronomy came alive when Jesus stopped the unclean spirit dead in his tracks.

Would it not be wonderful if God were to act directly in our midst today? But then, aren’t we His instruments, His hands and feet – He the Vine and we the branches? So, it is time we examined if we are being true to our Christian vocation; it is time we looked at our role in our families and in the world at large; it is time we checked how readily we stand by God and adhere to His law, or, instead, promptly jump on the bandwagon!

What are the obstacles in our way? St Paul hits the nail on the head when he refers to our wavering commitment. Married men and women have their own preoccupations about pleasing each other rather than the Lord. It may imply that a life of celibacy is a better sign of prophecy, but the Apostle does not pit himself against the institution of marriage; rather, he urges us, whether married or celibate, to always remain focussed on the Lord.

The neo-gothic fresco of prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, by Leopold Bruckner

Prophecy makes the world go round, but at a time when people are becoming distrustful of institutions, governments, science and technology, and the media, we must beware of charming individuals that might try to fill the vacuum. Way back in the sixteenth century, innovators pretended to reform the Church but ended up dividing it. Let us not forget that, with the devil clamouring for our souls, we are ever in a state of siege. Or as Bishop Barron puts it, ‘in a world that has lost its bearings, those who speak the divine truth will, perforce, appear unhinged.’[1]

Hence, a summary of rules drawn up by trusted theologians and outlined by the Catholic Encyclopaedia [2], may be useful to show practically how the doctrine of prophecy is to be applied to devout souls in order to save them from errors or diabolical delusions:

(1) the recipient of the gift of prophecy should, as a rule, be good and virtuous, for all mystical writers agree that for the most part this gift is granted by God to holy persons. The disposition or temperament of the person should also be considered, as well as the state of health and of the brain;

(2) the prophecy must be conformable to Christian truth and piety, because if it propose anything against faith or morals it cannot proceed from the Spirit of Truth;

(3) the prediction should concern things outside the reach of all natural knowledge, and have for its object future contingent things or those things which God only knows;

(4) it should also concern something of a grave and important nature, that is something for the good of the Church or the good of souls.[3]

(5) prophecies or revelations which make known the sins of others, or which announce the predestination or reprobation of souls are to be suspected.[4]

(6) we have afterwards to ascertain whether the prophecy has been fulfilled in the way foretold, with a few limitations.[5]

Let us therefore learn ‘to distinguish true prophecies from the puerile, senseless, and useless predictions of fortune-tellers, crystal-gazers, spiritualists, and charlatans.’[6] The indisputable fact is that God is the alpha and the omega; without Him we cannot live. And a large part of our troubles would be gone if only we had trusted Him rather than the world. Let us, then, harden not our hearts but listen to His voice. He is the rock who saves; we ought to hail and give Him thanks. He cares for us and leads us by His hand, as the Psalm emphasises. There can be no greater blessing than that of being His faithful prophet.




[3] These may tell things beyond human knowledge and yet within the scope of the natural knowledge of demons, but not those things that are strictly speaking the objects of prophecy (Ibid.)

[4] Three special secrets of God have always to be deeply respected as they are very rarely revealed, namely: the state of conscience in this life, the state of souls after death unless canonized by the Church, and the mystery of predestination. The secret of predestination has been revealed only in exceptional cases, but that of reprobation has never been revealed, because so long as the soul is in this life, its salvation is possible. The day of General Judgment is also a secret which has never been revealed (Ibid.)

[5] There are some limitations to this rule: (a) if the prophecy was not absolute, but containing threats only, and tempered by conditions expressed or understood, as exemplified in the prophecy of Jonas to the Ninivites, and that of Isaias to King Ezechias; (b) it may sometimes happen that the prophecy is true and from God, and the human interpretation of it false, as men may interpret it otherwise than God intended. It is by these limitations we have to explain the prophecy of St. Bernard regarding the success of the Second Crusade, and that of St. Vincent Ferrer regarding the near approach of the General Judgment in his day. (Ibid.)

[6] Ibid.