On the day of our baptism, each one of us was called to become a prophet. In fact, we were called by God to share in the prophetic mission of Jesus Christ, who revealed in his life, death, and resurrection the eternal will of God the Father.
We are each called to become prophets. But few of us have given much thought to what that really means. For many people, the idea of prophecy is confused with fortune-telling or predicting the future. Many people think that prophecy is always some kind of mystical experience reserved to a limited or select number of Catholics.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains our prophetic vocation much differently. We are prophetic, says the Catechism, when we “deepen understanding and become Christ’s witnesses in the midst of this world.” We are prophetic when we understand the way in which God works in the world, and when we deepen our understanding of the Gospel. And we are prophetic when we are witnesses to the meaning of the Gospel in the lives of believers.
We are prophetic when we are disciples of Jesus Christ, hear his voice, and witness to our faithful response to his call.
To be sure, the Lord reveals himself to each of us in different ways and with different purposes. To some people, the Lord reveals meaningful aspects of his abundant love. To St. Margaret Mary, for example, whose feast we celebrate on Friday, the Lord revealed the inestimable love of his Sacred Heart. To St. Faustina, the Lord revealed the graces available in his Divine Mercy. Today, in our midst, the Lord reveals himself to men and women of faith in order to help each of us live the Gospel’s call more freely and faithfully.
The Church calls this kind of revelation “private revelation.” Private revelation does not add anything to the deposit of faith revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Instead, private revelation can “help us live more fully” the Catholic faith “in a certain period of history.” Private revelation does not compel us to believe anything new; it only helps us to understand how to live out our beliefs.
When a person claims to receive private revelation, the Church carefully investigates the veracity of the claim, and the fidelity of the message to the teachings of the magisterium. No person could, for example, receive private revelation that contradicts the sacred teachings of the Church. But private revelation that calls Catholics to the sacramental life, to discipleship and evangelization, to veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, can be a good and fruitful tool. When private revelation seems to be credible, the Church approves its use by Catholics in their devotional lives.
Of course, there are many people who claim to have received private revelations of prophetic significance who have not received the approval of the Church. However, some do; and if the Church approves their witness, Catholics can consider it helpful in the spiritual life.
But some people who claim to receive private revelation pose a danger, because they conflate their own viewpoints and judgments with the revelation of God. In some cases, they may claim to be able to predict very specific world events, often catastrophic. In some cases, they may claim to have the sole means of resolution to a political or social problem. In some cases, they may contradict the inerrant teaching of the Church.
Catholics should approach unapproved private revelation with healthy discernment about the wisdom of the message. They should seek out the guidance of their pastors and spiritual directors. And they should prudently discern the fruits of so-called revelations: do they lead to greater devotion, and greater peace, or do they sow a spirit of fear, distress and anxiety? The work of the Holy Spirit does not engender anxiety and worry among believers.
Above all, Catholics should be concerned when alleged revelations draw their focus from the ordinary and daily challenges of the spiritual life. The truth is that we do not know when the Lord will come. And we know that the evil one most often visits us in the ordinary and daily temptations of the flesh. An unbalanced focus on catastrophes, end times, or unusual demonic activity can distract us from the daily commitment to know the Lord, to love him, and to serve him—to turn away from sin, and to make disciples of all nations.
We should each listen attentively for the Word of the Lord—spoken to us directly, or through the Church, or through others. But we should also be careful, each day, that the voices we hear are those of God’s faithful servants, under the direction of the Church, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Not one of us knows when our last day will come. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. But we do know that the Lord calls us to faithful, active, and generous discipleship each day. And we know that in the sacramental life of the Church, and in her sacred teaching, every grace that we need for salvation is made manifest. And we should remember that the Lord calls each one of us to be prophets—witnesses—to God’s grace, his promise, and his eternal Kingdom.