A poll taken in the U.K. showed that more people believe in ghosts and UFOs than in God. While there’s a natural curiosity in the possibility of the existence of the supernatural, hence the popularity of movies like The Exorcist, it doesn’t necessarily lead people to God. St. Paul explains this curious phenomenon:
Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything… (1 Cor. 2:12-15).
While it is important to take Catholic prophetic literature seriously, there have been problems in the manner in which it has been transmitted to us through the ages. There are many collections of both ancient and more recent prophecies, usually assembled by topic with a view to building a chronology of events that can be expected to occur in the future. The trouble with this approach is that the authors tend to mix prophecies and visions by well known saints with those of historical figures of which little or nothing is known. The end result a chronology of events that has limited credibility and is likely misguided and wrong.
A better approach would be to assess the credibility of a prophecy by evaluating the prophet’s life and spirituality, as well as the origin and transmission history of the prophecy itself. The former cannot be done in the case of anonymous prophecies, but can for someone like Nostradamus, who I believe was a self-serving scoundrel. One would then separate those with a high level of authenticity from those with a low one, interpreting the latter in light of the former.
A good example of this is an article I wrote in 2017, St. Hildegard and the Convergence of Feast Days in 2038. By interpreting two well-known prophecies in light of Hildegard’s vision of the Grey Wolf led to interesting conclusions, including that a financial crisis leading to civil unrest would commence 18 years prior to 2038; that year is 2020. Read this to see what’s currently unfolding in France.
Both Sts. Paul and John urge us to make the effort to evaluate claims of prophetic visions:
Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. (1 Thess. 5:20,21)
Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
One of the best books on the subject is Authenticity: A Biblical Theology of Discernment by Fr. Thomas DuBay S.M.† He points out that the Greek word for “test” in 1 John 4:1, diakrisis, refers to “distinguishing, judging, and evaluating”; and in itself is a gift (1 Cor. 12:10). He concludes that a Catholic should be confident in his ability to discern:
…[T]he New Testament is optimistic in holding that we can contact God, and we can know when that contact is authentic and when it is imaginary (p.73).
In The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society I studied the visions experienced by the medieval Saint, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, whose writings had their status elevated after she was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI. I discovered that four of five sequential prophetic visions of the last days she recorded resembled four distinct historical periods occurring during the late 19th century through the present. There is no authorship question here, we have access to an original manuscript produced in her own scriptorium and which had been analyzed and approved by a papal commission called by Pope Blessed Eugenius III and St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
The ultimate judge of a person claiming to have the spiritual gift of prophecy is whether the prophecy comes to pass. If my interpretation of the fulfillment of the first four prophecies is compelling, it makes the fifth one a blueprint for Roman Catholics of what lies ahead.
†(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997)