Prophets, True and False

By Chris Sparks

What do you do when someone announces they’ve had a message from God?

Many of our friends and neighbors would probably reach for the straitjacket, but that shouldn’t be our impulse as believing Christians. After all, the Bible is full of times where God spoke to His people. The prophetic books include the writings or teachings of people who heard from the Lord very directly, and whose prophecies proved to be true. Indeed, we are told in the New Testament that Jesus will send the Holy Spirit on His followers (see Jn 14:15-31), and shown what that looks like in practice at Pentecost (see Acts 2) and throughout the ministry of the early Church.

It looks like miracles.

It looks like signs and wonders.

It looks like preaching and being understood in languages that we have never learned.

It looks like drunkenness or madness to those who don’t share the faith (see Acts 2:13).

And indeed, if purported prophecy is not truly from the Holy Spirit, it is madness, or worse. True prophecy is a great gift and blessing to the Church and the world. False prophets are a plague, and a curse (see Mt 7:12-29). The greatest of all false prophets will be the Antichrist at the end of ages. His deception will be nearly absolute, penetrated only by grace and humility or purity.


That means private revelation and other forms of prophesy must be discerned, not accepted without challenge or question. We are told this very strongly in Scripture:

Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil (1 Thess 5:17-22).

“Test everything.” You know what that means? It means if you question someone’s claim to be hearing directly from God, it doesn’t prove that you lack faith. No — you’re being obedient to the Bible, instead.

On the other hand, if a person has proven that they are, in fact, hearing from God — if, like St. Faustina, they’ve given true prophecies; their writings have received the nihil obstat and the imprimatur; they’ve been canonized by the Church; and had the elements of their message and devotion incorporated into the Church’s devotional practice at all levels by the Magisterium of the Church — it’s not a good idea to ignore them. It’s an even worse idea to claim that they aren’t actually true prophets sent by God.

The true prophets tend to win out in the end, you see. Saint Faustina suffered from her sisters in her order during her lifetime, and the Divine Mercy message and devotion was placed under an ecclesiastical ban for around 20 years after her death. But she was a true saint, mystic, and prophet. The Lord had truly come to her, and truly commissioned her to be the Secretary and Apostle of Divine Mercy. So she was vindicated in the end. Her cause for canonization was opened, which led to the ban being lifted on the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Ultimately, she has been canonized and her prophecy fulfilled:

There will come a time when this work, which God is demanding so very much, will be as though utterly undone. And then God will act with great power, which will give evidence of its authenticity. It will be a new splendor for the Church, although it has been dormant in it from long ago (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 378).

Or look at St. Padre Pio, for instance. In his own lifetime, he was questioned, confined to his monastery, and received every manner of attack from people who thought his miracles a myth and his sanctity false. But Holy Mother Church has canonized him, and that canonization is an infallible act. Saint Padre Pio will be remembered for generations to come as a true mystic, wonderworker, and incredible man of God. In the meantime, his attackers continue to fade into obscurity.

So our Catholic faith summons us to a balancing act, using both faith and reason.

Faith tells us that miracles are possible, that the Holy Spirit is alive and active through all the baptized, if we are open to Him. Faith lets us know how God has worked through prophets in the past through Scripture and Tradition, and offers us means of discerning true from false prophets through the Magisterium of the Church today.

Reason tells us that many human beings are charlatans, that if a person claims to be a prophet but none of their prophecies come true, then they probably shouldn’t be trusted. Reason guides us to take seriously the pursuit of truth, telling us that science and scholarship (though fallible) are still reliable guides to the way the creation of God functions. We are to listen to scientists and to scholars, testing everything, of course, and receive what is good rather than uncritically buying into every intellectual fashion, but taking seriously that the human mind can know the truth.

We are to listen to both scientists and saints, both scholars and the authoritative teachers of the Church, the bishops in communion with the Holy Father. No matter how much we may like what any purported prophet may say, or what the latest supposed unapproved Marian apparition claims, we have to remain firmly anchored in our communion with the bishops united to the Holy Father. We have to remember that Public Revelation is authoritative and binding for our salvation, and that prophecy and private revelation are not (see Catechism, 66-67). Prophecy and private revelation can be hugely helpful for our salvation, of course, and give us information and devotions vitally important for the life of the Church and the world in our time, as happened at Fatima and through St. Faustina. I think we can all agree that we’d be foolish to reject true prophets or true gifts from God.

But if we prefer purported private revelations or new devotions to communion with Holy Mother Church, we are jeopardizing our souls and the souls of those around us. If we prefer purported prophets and visionaries to the successors to the apostles, then we are sheep heading out of the sheepfold, and the Good Shepherd may well have to come get us again.

So test everything, and keep what is good. Remain standing firmly on the Rock, on St. Peter and the apostles. Trust in the promises of Christ, and so both look to Public Revelation and be open to the ways the Holy Spirit works in the modern age. Stand firmly on that step stool that Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, likes to talk about, with the three legs of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, while remaining in prayer and watching for extraordinary graces of prophecy, miracles, and private revelation. Read and study what the Church has approved — we’ve barely begun to live the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let alone the more modern apparitions of Lourdes or Fatima. Continue to renew your mind by study of the Scriptures, of the writings of the saints and Doctors of the Church, and of approved visionaries and mystics. By knowing the truth from solid sources, you will be better equipped to serve Christ in the modern world and discern truth from falsehood.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

Photo by iam_os on Unsplash



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