Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
The flock is fairly warned by Christ to beware false prophets, those ravening wolves who sneak in among us disguised as faithful sheep! We're to be on guard against these creatures b/c they cause spiritual chaos among the faithful. For pleasure and profit, they lie, cheat, steal, and inflict deep and lasting wounds on the Body. Jesus gives us only one criterion for sussing out the wolves among us, “By their fruits you will know them.” Let's leave it to the imagination to picture what sort of fruit a wolf produces. We get one more hint about identifying the wolves. Jesus asks, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Obviously, no, they don't. Grapes comes from grape vines and figs come from fig trees. If you want grapes, find grape vines. If you want figs, find a fig tree. Likewise, if you want the true fruits of the Spirit, go the Tree of Life, Christ in his Church. False prophets play at being a church, play at being spiritual, play at profound teaching; but, ultimately, they can't hide the stink of falsehood. The question is: how to recognize these beasts before they lead you astray?
We start with a fairly standard definition of prophecy, “[Prophetic] knowledge must be supernatural and infused by God because it concerns things beyond the natural power of created intelligence; and the knowledge must be manifested either by words or signs, because the gift of prophecy is given primarily for the good of others, and hence needs to be manifested.” The gift of prophecy originates with God; is a kind of supernatural knowledge; is made known by signs or words; and is given to be shared for the good of others. With this definition in mind, the Church understands a prophet to be someone gifted by God with a supernatural knowledge of future events who reveals and shares this knowledge for the benefit of others. This definition would include all the prophets of the Old Testament and several figures in the New—Zechariah, Elizabeth, the Blessed Mother, Anna, Simeon, and John the Baptist. To each of these men and women God reveals a once hidden knowledge concerning His divine plan for humanity. Then each shares what they have been shown. The key question for us now in discerning true from false prophecy is: Is what this alleged prophet telling us consistent with what has already been revealed in ages past? Truth cannot contradict truth. Inconsistency always smells like a hungry wolf. And it is the ministry of the Church to ensure that the apostolic faith remains consistent and uncontradicted within the flock.
If the truth of a contemporary prophecy must be judged against already established prophetic truths, how can anyone credibly claim to be a modern prophet? All baptized Christians share in the priestly, kingly, and prophetic offices of Christ. We are all prophets. This truth has led some to believe that they exercise the powers of a prophet apart from Christ. With Christ, we are true prophets, proclaiming the Good News along with Mary, Elizabeth, John the Baptist. Apart from Christ, we are false prophets, proclaiming a lie. All that we require for our salvation has been revealed in scripture. All that we require for our growth in holiness has been revealed in Christ Jesus and taught by his Church. Anyone who tells you that you need something other than scripture, Christ, and his Church for your salvation or your holiness is a salesman trying to sell you fresh fruit from a rotten tree. Or even better: a ravening wolf pretending to be a sheep. So by their fruits you will know them. And (ahem) what sort of fruit do wolves produce?
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