By JOEL PADGETT
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
Who are the voices we turn to in order to make sense of our lives or to interpret current events? Where do we look to find those truths in which we tend to place our hopes? In other words, who are our prophets? For, in one way or another, we are all led by prophets; but let us pray that God save us from following false ones.
In this time in which there is practically unlimited access to instant information – regardless of its accuracy – it is understandable to see how we can find ourselves desiring to know increasingly more about what is going on in the world, as well as grasping to make sense of all its happenings. It is not uncommon to hear people say something along the lines of, “Just wait. You’ll see. Such and such is going to happen.”
It is true that God gives people the gift of prophecy at times. St. Paul refers clearly to this, and to its purpose, in his first letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor 12:7-11). However, the Church also has a couple thousand years of experience – and, more importantly, the assurance of God’s grace – when it comes to discerning authentic prophecy. In regard to the interpretation and application of prophecy, it is best to have a sure guide because it is all too easy to be led astray. And one of the best guides that the Church offers in this respect is the teaching of St. John of the Cross, a doctor of the Church.
In “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” St. John of the Cross writes that “not all revelations turn out according to what we understand by the words.” Since God is transcendent, his prophecies usually contain “concepts and ideas remarkably different from the meaning we generally find in them.” In addition, St. John of the Cross says, “Although God may have affirmed something to a person … the event may not turn out as expected; and frequently, no one but God knows why.” The reason for this is that “God usually affirms, teaches and promises many things, not so there will be an immediate understanding of them, but so that afterward at the proper time, or when the effect is produced, one may receive light about them.” In Book II, Chapters 19-20, he provides many excellent examples from Sacred Scripture to clarify his point. They are well worth the read.
St. John of the Cross also gives a few examples of his own. In one of them, he speaks of a good and holy person who is being threatened by enemies. God tells this person, “I will free you from your enemies.” However, this person’s enemies end up killing him. St. John goes on to explain that “anyone who had given these words a temporal interpretation would have been deceived because God had been speaking of the true and principal freedom and victory – salvation, in which the soul is free and victorious over all its enemies.” Contrary to how many people would think, St. John indicates that, in fact, “this prophecy had greater truth and richness than was understandable through an interpretation that related the freedom to this life.” Once again, the reason is because “God always refers to the more important and profitable meaning” rather than to “a less important sense.”
In the end, St. John of the Cross encourages us to look beyond the incomplete understandings of this world. He challenges us to reflect on the motives that might lie behind our desire to grasp things. He leads us, as only an authentic prophet does, to set our gaze upon the person of Jesus, not on lesser things, and to trust in Him. As if it were God the Father speaking, St. John of the Cross writes, “If I have already told you all things in my Word, my Son, and if I have no other word, what answer or revelation can I now make that would surpass this? Fasten your eyes on him alone because in him I have spoken and revealed all.”