Are These Prophetic ‘End Times’?

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This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register. You can view it here.

By Judy Roberts

Under the sobering headline, “A Time of Judgment and Purification,” Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Renewal Ministries published a decades-old message in its July newsletter that seemed eerily timely.

“My Church is desperately in need of this judgment,” the message said in part. “They have continued in an adulterous relationship with the spirit of the world. They are not only infected with sin, but they teach sin, embrace sin, dismiss sin. Their leadership has been unable to handle this.”

First spoken by the late Franciscan Father Michael Scanlan and published in the former New Covenant magazine in 1980, those words are considered a prophecy by Renewal Ministries, which grew out of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. The prophecy of Father Scanlan, who served as president of Franciscan University of Steubenville from 1974 to 2000, is one of several received years ago by leaders of the movement that have continued to resonate as events have unfolded in the Church and the world.

But such messages are not isolated or even rare. They are among many that have been spoken or written in the modern age, leading some to believe the world is in or entering the “end times” referred to in Scripture.

Indeed, several popes, including more recently St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have spoken compellingly along these lines, as have the visionaries of Fatima and other Marian apparition sites and scores of ordinary people who receive visions or locutions and discern them through their spiritual directors, sometimes sharing them online.

In fact, Catholics who follow such messages were less surprised than many by the recent revelations about the clergy sexual-abuse scandal and the Church’s failure to deal with it.

Mark Mallett, a Canadian author, blogger and evangelist who sees his role as one of watching, praying and listening to what God is saying to the Church, said he believes the Church was warned of the sexual-abuse crisis in general terms partly through the messages at Fatima that spoke of how Russia would spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church if Mary’s requests were not heeded.

“The ‘errors’ of Russia, which find their genesis in the Enlightenment period,” Mallett said in an email interview, “include all the ‘isms’ that infected the nations since 1917: communism, socialism, radical feminism, modernism, individualism, moral relativism. In this sense, the sexual perversion being exposed today is symptomatic of a culture that has long lost its moral boundaries, thereby putting ‘the very future of the world … at stake,’ as Pope Benedict warned the Curia in 2010.”

Still, Mallett said, when God speaks through prophecy, it is not to predict the future, but, as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 2000 in his theological commentary on the Fatima message, “to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future.”

Role of Prophecy

Father Joseph Esper, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and author of several books dealing with prophetic messages, said in the Old Testament, God raised up prophets as a kind of back channel of communication to the people because those who made up the religious establishment of the day were not doing what they were called to do.

“When religious leaders are fulfilling their duties, prophets, especially in the form of private revelation, are not really needed,” he said. “The fact that there has been much alleged private revelation over the last few centuries indicates that, sometimes, leaders of the Church have fallen short.”

Father Esper said in such cases, God uses prophecy to warn, prepare and encourage people, but never to introduce new doctrine and only to elaborate on Church teaching or give practical information or advice on how to put that teaching into practice.

Messages can be for an entire nation, a group of people, the Church itself or individuals, he said. Often, when warning of dire things to come, prophecy is conditional, meaning that if people take the message seriously and change their ways, chastisements can be mitigated or prevented.

Peter Herbeck, vice president and director of missions for Renewal Ministries, said prophetic messages can show the broad lines of what may be coming, given Scripture says that the Lord “reveals his secret counsel to his servants the prophets.”

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