In my previous musing, I focused on St. John of the Cross quite a bit, and his timely spiritual wisdom, as something that Charismatics really need to consider.
Today I would like to focus just a bit on the issue of "prophesy" that occurs within Charismatic circles. This normally occurs during what they call their praise and worship sessions, a session of upbeat revivalist music. While in many instances - not the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - this makes up an integral part of Charismatic worship. This is also the forum in which they gather with Protestant Charismatics. I am not going really to discuss some potential concerns we have over the issue of the "praise and worship" sessions, but rather some of the things that occurs in them. To do this, allow me to recount a rather recent experience I had.
In September, I happened to be in Steubenville, about a 4-hour hike for me. I was there with a few friends, and one of them wished to take me to what they call their "Festival of Praise" at Franciscan University of Steubenville. It is a very long drawn out session of the praise and worship scenario I described above. To say this was an odd place for a staunch traditionalist to be is quite an understatement, though I was committed to being there with an objective and impartial mind, at least as much as I could be. They announced that during this session, there would be "discernment teams" on hand, to judge the gifts of the Spirit the particular individual had, and that there would be prophesy, and we were to listen to the Spirit "ministering" through that prophesy.
Right then the first alarm went off in my head. Nobody was leaving until somebody prophesied. Furthermore, it was staged right into the rubrics, almost using the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as part of a show if you will. While there is a time and a place for everything no doubt, I found it all too convenient that the audience was told from the beginning to expect some of them to begin prophesy, and - surprise! somebody ends up with prophesy. So much for the spirit blowing where He wills, it is more like they are trying to control The Spirit's activity. Not very "charismatic" if you ask me!
After about a 10 minute session of wild dancing and swaying throughout the crowd. (While I was given nasty looks for praying the Rosary, even though I was "assured" that anyway I chose to praise God during this, would be ok. Go figure!) Somebody went up to the "discernment" team. What I saw was not discernment, but almost a "yes-man" approach. They said a quick 5-second prayer, and the person stormed right up to the podium. What special revelation was the crowd going to be entitled to that night? Though I did not write the words down, to borrow from John Kerry, the words were "seared, SEARED into my memory." Although differing from Senator Sacrilege, I actually have a good memory.
I remember another story communicated by the Catholic apologist Gerry Matatics. One time he went to one of these Charismatic sessions, where people were speaking in tongues. Gerry, in his rather typical playful mood, decided to have a little fun. He arose, and spoke in tongues. Those tongues were Old Testament verses in Hebrew, since Mr. Matatics is quite proficient in both Greek and Hebrew. When it came time for prophesy, the "interpretation" didn't resemble what was spoken in any particular way. While I'm not focusing on the issue of tongue speaking just yet, this is proof right here that the person has NO CLUE WHATSOEVER if what they are hearing is from God. It could simply be made up, and nobody is anymore the wiser. The chance for this fakery only increases when it's mandated at the beginning that prophesy will, and one could say, must occur, for them to be satisfied that the Holy Spirit is working through them.
Now I want to talk about the desire of such prophesy. As I noted before, such external manifestations are to be fled from, according to St. John of the Cross. What he says about corporeal manifestations applies just as much here to such things as prophesy, the healing masses, and the like. These are external acts of the Spirit.
The first is that faith grows gradually less; for things that are experienced by the senses derogate from faith; since faith, as we have said, transcends every sense. And thus the soul withdraws itself from the means of union with God when it closes not its eyes to all these things of sense.
Secondly, if they be not rejected, they are a hindrance to the spirit, for the soul rests in them and its spirit soars not to the invisible. This was one of the reasons why the Lord said to His disciples that it was needful for Him to go away that the Holy Spirit might come; so, too, He forbade Mary Magdalene to touch His feet, after His resurrection, that she might be grounded in faith."
The more one accepts these manifestations, and the more one follows these things, the more they become dependent on them. They run the risk of no longer trusting in faith that the Spirit is working in their lives, they need to see it by these external manifestations. For those people who prophesy, are put up on a pedestal in front of all others present, to where everyone listens to them. If only we had that gift, everyone would listen to us. Though sinful that desire is, it is a desire that is all too present when operating from this mentality.
When such spiritual gifts are given, rather than a means, it becomes an end, or at least the danger is existent. Such manifestations run the risk of being the "be all end all" and not a means to achieving greater spiritual communication with God. As far as what to do when one encounters these manifestations and gifts, again, St. John of the Cross has some choice words for those who make it a point to celebrate and call people to such external manifestations:
I want to focus on what he just said. Such is the case with many ignorant and incautious souls. As an apologist, and those who read this who are apologists, they will resonate with these things probably far more than the rest of this audience. How many times have we heard people say how strong they are in their faith, that they can withstand attending that Protestant Bible study, because after all, some things they get right. Likewise, the Charismatic reasons that their faith is so strong; the devil couldn't do them any harm. They can desire such gifts, seek them even in the Assemblies of God Churches, where they hear of the great "prophesy" of these fiery charismatic leaders. Let's stop kidding ourselves.
Even the greatest spiritual mystics knew full well that if it went down to a battle between them, and the devil in all his ugliness, his deception, and his power, they would not last. Knowing that the more grace God gives, the more Satan strikes at that person, they did what they could to completely avoid his influence, as best they could. Even we apologists, who have no problem charging into battle with the armor of faith and the sword of God's word against the opponents of Holy Mother Church, learn not to rely upon a Protestant for truth. For while they give some truth, they are in error. And we know all too many good intentioned people who went with this approach, and their path down the dark side began. Once they realized where they were, there was no turning back, and many left the Church. So it shall be for those who thrive off of seeking these grandiose events.
As far as the issue of interpretation of such prophesies, and how the spiritual teacher is to handle such cases where they are prevalent, St. John of the Cross has this to say. (Note all the quotes so far listed have been from the Second Book of the Ascent of Mt. Carmel)
"From this it is clear that, although sayings and revelations may be of God, we cannot always be sure of their meaning; for we can very easily be greatly deceived by them because of our manner of understanding them. For they are all an abyss and a depth of the spirit, and to try to limit them to what we can understand concerning them, and to what our sense can apprehend, is nothing but to attempt to grasp the air, and to grasp some particle in it that the hand touches: the air disappears and nothing remains.
11. The spiritual teacher must therefore strive that the spirituality of his disciple be not cramped by attempts to interpret all supernatural apprehensions, which are no more than spiritual particles, lest he come to retain naught but these, and have no spirituality at all. But let the teacher wean his disciple from all visions and locutions, and impress upon him the necessity of dwelling in the liberty and darkness of faith, wherein are received spiritual liberty and abundance, and consequently the wisdom and understanding necessary to interpret sayings of God. For it is impossible for a man, if he be not spiritual, to judge of the things of God or understand them in a reasonable way, and he is not spiritual when he judges them according to sense; and thus, although they come to him beneath the disguise of sense, he understands them not. This Saint Paul well expresses in these words: Animalis autem homo non percipit ea quoe sunt spiritus Dei: stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere: quia de spiritualibus examinatur. Spiritualis autem judicat omnia. Which signifies: The animal man perceives not the things which are of the Spirit of God, for unto him they are foolishness and he cannot understand them because they are spiritual; but he that is spiritual judges all things. By the animal man is here meant one that uses sense alone; by the spiritual man, one that is not bound or guided by sense. Wherefore it is temerity to presume to have intercourse with God by way of a supernatural apprehension effected by sense, or to allow anyone else to do so.
12. And that this may be the better understood let us here set down a few examples. Let us suppose that a holy man is greatly afflicted because his enemies persecute him, and that God answers him, saying: I will deliver thee from all thine enemies. This prophecy may be very true, yet, notwithstanding, his enemies may succeed in prevailing, and he may die at their hands. And so if a man should understand this after a temporal manner he would be deceived; for God might be speaking of the true and principal liberty and victory, which is salvation, whereby the soul is delivered, free and made victorious over all its enemies, and much more truly so and in a higher sense than if it were delivered from them here below. And thus, this prophecy was much more true and comprehensive than the man could understand if he interpreted it only with respect to this life; for, when God speaks, His words are always to be taken in the sense which is most important and profitable, whereas man, according to his own way and purpose, may understand the less important sense, and thus may be deceived. This we see in that prophecy which David makes concerning Christ in the second Psalm saying: Reges eos in virga ferrea, et tamquam vas figuli confringes eos. That is: Thou shalt rule all the people with a rod of iron and thou shalt dash them in pieces like a vessel of clay. Herein God speaks of the principal and perfect dominion, which is eternal dominion; and it was in this sense that it was fulfilled, and not in the less important sense, which was temporal, and which was not fulfilled in Christ during any part of His temporal life."
While a lengthy quote, something we should certainly read carefully. By their nature, prophesy from the Spirit is not easy to decipher. One could think about the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation. Grandiose imagery, stunning revelations, yet it was not intended to be taken on a purely literal level, as do those Left Behind books. Rather, the imagery served a temporal and spiritual purpose. The temporal purpose was to use such imagery to hide what the book was truly saying from the Roman Empire and those who were enemies of Christianity. One could almost say the spiritual aspect and I would venture to say this, that it was made with such imagery almost to discourage wild speculation about the end times. Worry about the now.
As for the Apocalypse, the clearest saying in the book is "Come Lord Jesus" how the book ends. That is what the person is to focus on. For out of all the deception, this is proven true, as the greatest number of people are deceived by falling into wacky conspiracy theories about the end times. Yet such can bear a striking resemblance to the Charismatic movement. As before, there is plenty more I could say, but I feel as if I have made this musing far too long already. Yet read this book in the Ascent of Mt. Carmel. Continue reading it. Those who are Charismatics, in good faith, ask yourself not only if you are following such guidelines, but if you are taking a different approach, realistically look at the dangers in that approach. For the course acted here outlined, there is no danger. We avoid the devils deception, and, besides, such manifestations are not necessary for union with God. Prayer works just fine, thank you. Quiet prayer without the gyrations and distractions.
vol 16, no. 7
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi